To get into your backyard. And now what???
OK, chickens are becoming popular. No secret there. You probably know this because of the guy across the street who keeps four chickens in a shed. Or… you live in a rural area and have your own small flock. If you’re not into this groovy new hobby for eggs or avian companionship, it’s probably for meat. Chicken whose quality you trust, ’cause you raised it yourself.
I often get asked about the legality of slaughtering one’s own chickens. (Pathetic, really. There I am, nicely dressed, holding a glass of wine at a party, and nobody wants to know if I’m free later… they only want to talk about meat provenance.)
Anyway, IS it legal? Can you kill and eat chickens without the weight of the law falling upon you? What about selling your own chickens to friends? Do they have to be inspected? (the chickens, not the friends)
The following is a summary of the USDA regulations regarding this thorny issue… but (reader beware) it gets kinda complicated. And may also have changed in the last ten minutes.
Short answer? Yes, there are conditions under which poultry slaughter and processing are excempt from inspection. In fact, there are many. Keep in mind that by “inspection”, the USDA means continuous bird-by-bird checking-out by inspectors who are onsite during both slaughter and processing. Obviously, this isn’t possible for small operations, nor was it ever intended to be.
First, a definition: the terms “processed” or “processing” are specific terms which refer to the defeathering, gutting, skinning, cutting, boning of poultry, including things like canning, salting, stuffing, etc.
There is one absolute requirement: anyone who kills and processes birds for use as human food must produce a product that is neither adulterated or misbranded.
An adulterated product is one that either contains substances that make it unsafe to eat (remember the melamine in Chinese baby formula?)… or one processed under unsanitary conditions. To learn more about proper sanitary conditions for processing, browse the USDA website or try this link (which worked when I tried it, but no guarantee!!!)
A misbranded product is just what it sounds like. Thus, claiming that your chicken has been inspected if it isn’t is misbranding it. Exempt poultry cannot bear any official mark of inspection. In addition, there are specific labeling or identification requirements for exempt product.
Now let’s take a gander at a few of the more relevant exemption categories.
If you’re going to slaughter your own chicken and eat it yourself, inspection is not required. To paraphrase the USDA regulations:
The slaughtered and processed poultry must be for the private use of:
- the grower, producer or owner (who are not necessarily the same person)
- members of his or her household, and
- his or her nonpaying guests and employees (notice the word “nonpaying”?)
Slaughter and processing must be performed by the grower, producer or owner (that’s you).
The poultry must be healthy when slaughtered.
The poultry must be slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions that result in products that are fit for human food.
The exempt poultry can not be sold or donated for use as human food.
- There’s no limit on the amount of birds you can slaughter and process for your own private use.
A custom slaughter facility kills and processes birds that belong to other people; in other words, it provides a service. If you’re a little squeamish about killing your own birds, you can bring them to a custom slaughterer, who’ll do it for you.
Again, back to the USDA:
A custom slaughterer cannot engage in buying or selling poultry products capable for use as human food (remember, this is a service);
The poultry must be healthy when slaughtered;
Slaughter and processing must be conducted in accordance with sanitary standards, practices, and procedures that produce products that are fit for human consumption (not adulterated);
The poultry must be for the personal use of the grower or owner. In addition, the grower/owner of the poultry may not sell or donate the custom slaughtered poultry to another person or institution.
- A custom slaughterer who is also a poultry grower may raise and sell his or her live poultry to businesses not associated with his or her custom slaughter business.
- Selling live poultry to a customer does not necessarily disqualify a business from the Custom Slaughter Exemption. For example, a custom slaughter facility may sell live poultry to a person and then custom slaughter the bird for them. However, a person who custom slaughters poultry may not buy or sell poultry products. (You may need to read this paragraph again; note the distinction between selling a live bird to someone and then slaughtering it, compared to selling an already slaughtered bird.)
- A custom slaughter business is allowed to use a mobile slaughter/processing unit.
PRODUCER/GROWER – 1,000 LIMIT EXEMPTION
Poultry raisers who slaughter no more than 1,000 poultry in a calendar year can distribute the poultry without mandatory inspection under the following criteria:
The poultry grower can only sell poultry products produced on his or her own farm;
Slaughter and processing must be conducted under sanitary standards that produce products that are fit for human consumption (not adulterated);
The producer must keep records necessary for the effective enforcement of the Act [Title 9 CFR 381.175]; and
The poultry products cannot be transported across state lines.
Records necessary for the enforcement of the Act will include slaughter records as well as records that list sales of poultry products to customers.
USDA/FSIS or State employees will review the records to determine compliance with the requirement of the sale of no more than 1,000 poultry in a calendar year.
PRODUCER OR GROWER – 20,000 LIMIT EXEMPTION
If you raise more than 1,000 birds and are considering getting into chickens in a bigger way, you may be eligible for this exemption, providing you meet the following criteria:
You slaughter and process no more than 20,000 poultry in a calendar year on your own premises. You cannot use your slaughtering facility to kill or process anyone else’s poultry (unless you’re granted a special exemption by FSIS.)
Your poultry can only be sold/distributed within your own state.
Your poultry must be healthy when slaughtered.
Slaughter and processing are conducted using sanitary standards that produce products that are fit for use as human food (not adulterated);
You can only distribute poultry you have produced under the Producer/Grower Exemption.
OTHER EXEMPTIONS (which I won’t go into in detail)
If you slaughter/process no more than 20,000 birds per calendar year for sale only to private homes, restaurants, or hotels for use in meals they serve to customers, then you’re eligible for what the USDA terms the “Producer/Grower or Other Person (PGOP) Exemption”. Under this exemption only you can distribute your products, and only within your own state. You cannot sell your products to a retail store or to another producer/grower.
SMALL ENTERPRISE EXEMPTION
You may qualify if a) you’re a producer whose processing of exempt poultry is limited to cutting up; b) you buy live poultry for slaughter and limit processing to cutting up; or c) you buy poultry and distribute it as carcasses.
This exemption gets complicated, and is probably outside the interest of most of my readers, right? So I won’t get into it, since I doubt that you’re keen to go into business cutting up poultry carcasses.
… and as for the initial question (Why did the chicken cross the road?), here are some answers from a few famous people:
The Sphinx: You tell me.
Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.
Buddha: If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken nature.
Capt. James T. Kirk: To boldly go where no chicken has ever gone.