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Direct Sales


Jeff and Cindy process poultry on the farm and sell fresh whole birds directly to consumers. State regulations allow this, up to 1,000 birds sold per farm per year. This approach to poultry meat sales works better for Jeff and Cindy than a farmers’ market or wholesale, because they feel the distance and cost of inspected processing at either a USDA or state “Equal To” plant would significantly reduce profitability at their scale. Another strong advantage of a direct-sales approach is that they can decide the number of birds to raise each season based on customer demand. Each year, in late March or early April, Jeff and Cindy send out a pre-order form (Appendix I; PDF, 104 kb) to their customers after drafting their production plans for the season. Sometimes the numbers and types of birds available on any given processing date need to change mid –season, if birds aren’t coming to weight as quickly as anticipated. But overall, Jeff and feel this pre-order system helps them manage their time and cash flow effectively.

Educator’s Perspective: Resource Tip

The < 1,000 Bird Exemption

Clover Valley Farms, LLC sells fewer than 1,000 poultry per year directly from their farm premises, and they slaughter and process the birds on the farm. This puts them into Minnesota’s “fewer than 1,000 poultry per year” exemption category, which involves registering with the state but not licensing (see “Licensing and Registration” Resource Tip box).

This exemption category allows them to:

  • Slaughter and process poultry on their farm in sanitary conditions, which may include outdoor processing.
  • Sell to individual customers, but not to food businesses.
  • Sell from their farm premises, but not at a farmers’ market or any other off-farm location.
  • Process and sell up to 1,000 poultry per year, if packaged according to requirements for exempt producers.
  • Sell whole or cut-up poultry without a food handler’s license.
  • Store frozen birds in a freezer on their property prior to sale.

The on-farm processing exemption exists only for poultry. Any other kind of meat for sale cannot be processed and packaged by the farmer on the farm, unless the farm includes a licensed and inspected processing facility. This is true no matter how little meat is sold.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9 CFR part 381.1 (PDF, 2.4 Mb), “ ‘Poultry’ means any domesticated bird (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, ratites, or squabs, also termed young pigeons from one to about thirty days of age), whether live or dead.”

When birds are processed on the farm under the < 1,000 poultry exemption, there is normally no inspection of the slaughter and processing set-up, or of the freezer facility if a freezer is used to store processed birds. The MDA may inspect if they receive a complaint or if there is an illness outbreak traced to the farm.

The on-farm slaughter and processing must be done in sanitary conditions. It may be done outdoors, but care should be taken to prevent contamination of the birds by flies and other potential airborne or soil-borne contaminants.

There are two situations that would require an on-farm poultry processing operation to move indoors: (1) the farm starts to sell more than 1,000 poultry per year; or (2) the farm starts to sell poultry away from the farm premises (see “Meat and Poultry Regulations: Specific, Detailed, Confusing?” Resource Tip box). In both of these cases, processing must move indoors and the MDA must inspect and approve the processing facility.

For more information, see the MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division’s fact sheet: Sale of Home or Farm Raised Poultry.

Contact the MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division: 651-201-6027

Educator’s Perspective: Resource Tip

Meat and Poultry Regulations: Specific, Detailed, Confusing?

Getting your operation into compliance with all relevant state and federal regulations can be a daunting aspect of beginning farming. It can be especially challenging for small-scale, diversified farmers. Some regulations are geared toward larger producers and food businesses. There are exemptions that apply to small-scale farmers who market their own products, but these can be confusing to sort out.

One common pitfall of direct-marketing farmers is learning the rules for one type of meat sales, then making a change to the operation without considering regulatory impacts. Even a small change in the way you market meat can put you into a different regulatory category. When you change to a different regulatory category that requires a different level of licensing or inspection, you need to get new approval from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), or comparable agency in other states.

Clover Valley Farms, for example, does on-farm processing of poultry outdoors, with a scalder and plucker mounted on a trailer. This is legal for them because they are selling the processed birds directly from their farm premises, and are selling fewer than 1,000 birds per year (see “The < 1,000 Bird Exemption” Resource Tip box). If Cindy and Jeff decided to start selling poultry at the farmers’ market, they would be required to move their processing set-up indoors and get it inspected, even if they were still selling fewer than 1,000 birds per year. Doing poultry sales off the farm premises is a trigger for inspection of facilities. If they started selling more than 1,000 birds per year, that would also require moving indoors for processing and getting the processing set-up inspected.

Similarly, Cindy and Jeff do not need a license to sell their poultry, because they are selling a product that they raise themselves and are not adding any off-farm ingredients to it (see “Licensing and Registration” Resource Tip box). But if they started to add an off-farm ingredient, such as herbs or spices or even salt, they could no longer sell the product without a license. They would have to become licensed food handlers and have the poultry processed at a state Equal-To or USDA plant (see “Meat Processing” Resource Tip box) that has a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan for the addition of those ingredients to the poultry. Producers should check that their processing plant has an approved HACCP plan on file for the product they want to have made, signed by an MDA Dairy & Food Inspection supervisor for a state Equal-To plant or by a USDA supervisor for a USDA plant.

Cindy and Jeff do not need either a license or an inspection to sell their pork, because they are taking orders for animals (not meat) and having all animals pre-sold before slaughter and processing at a custom-exempt facility. If they decided to sell cuts of pork either from their farm or at a farmers’ market, they could no longer use a custom-exempt facility. The animals would need to be slaughtered under inspection at a USDA facility or state Equal-To facility. Cindy and Jeff would not need a license to sell cuts of plain pork, but they would need a license if they were selling a processed product such as bacon or sausage that included off-farm ingredients.

Food regulations are complex, especially for sales of meat, poultry and eggs. For the protection of both you and your customers – and to contribute to a positive image of sustainable farmers everywhere – it’s important to understand them thoroughly. Farmers who want to raise and sell meat, poultry, or eggs should plan to spend some time finding and reading the regulatory information that is available, learning the handling and labeling requirements, contacting the MDA, filling out the required forms, and scheduling an inspection if that is needed for their type of operation.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Dairy and Food Inspection Division is the ultimate source of information on regulations for Minnesota farmers of poultry and other food products. See the MDA web page on Meat, Poultry, and Egg Inspection for fact sheets, forms, and contact information.

Contact the Dairy & Food Inspection Division at 651-201-6027. Other states have comparable agencies.

Materials available on the MDA Web site can be confusing or difficult to find. Beginners are encouraged to contact MISA through the Ask MISA form for help in navigating information about regulations.

Educator’s Perspective: Resource Tip

Licensing, Inspections, and Registration for Poultry and Egg Producers

An important part of complying with regulations is understanding the distinctions between a license, a registration, and an inspection. The requirements for these things are different for poultry than for red meat (see “Licensing and Inspections for Red Meat” Resource Tip box). In Minnesota, small farmers selling fewer than 20,000 birds per year from their own farm generally do not need a license. Even if a farmer is exempt from licensing for the sale of their birds, the MDA still requests these producers to register their operations with the state. Depending on where the farmer is selling poultry and how many birds are sold, the farmer may need an inspection of his or her facility, even if no license is required (see “Meat and Poultry Regulations: Specific, Detailed, Confusing?” Resource Tip box).

The registration form for farmers who are exempt from licensing can be found on the MDA Web site. It is titled, “Egg Grading and Sales for Small Producers Exempt from Licensing Poultry Slaughter and Sales Direct to Consumers Exemption,” and is a very simple one-page, no-fee form that asks for contact information and the number of birds or eggs you plan to sell.

One exemption category is for farmers who raise fewer than 1,000 birds per year (see “The < 1,000 Bird Exemption” Resource Tip box). These exempt farmers are encouraged to register with the MDA as “Exempt Poultry Producers” using the form linked above.

Farmers who want to sell between 1,000 and 20,000 poultry per year have options for doing that. A farmer who invests in approved on-farm slaughter equipment and facilities can register as an exempt producer; have an inspection of their slaughter facility by an MDA inspector; and slaughter, process, and sell up to 20,000 birds per year to individuals within their state. The packaged birds must be labeled according to the requirements for exempt poultry. If processed birds will be stored in an on-farm freezer before being sold, that freezer facility also needs to be inspected by an MDA inspector. Licensing is not required so long as the farmer sells only his or her own birds, and adds no off-farm ingredients.

Farmers can also have birds processed at a USDA or Minnesota Equal-To facility (see “Meat Processing” Resource Tip box) and sell birds to individuals, restaurants, grocery stores, or other food businesses. The poultry are labeled as “inspected and passed” rather than as "exempt" poultry. Farmers can sell whole birds, cut-up birds, or parts of birds that are processed in a USDA or Minnesota Equal-To facility. In this case, the farmer is still exempt from licensing so long as no off-farm ingredients are added, but he or she should still register with the MDA as a poultry producer using the form linked above. If the farmer will store birds processed under inspection (USDA or Equal-To) in an on-farm freezer facility, that freezer facility must be inspected by an MDA Dairy and Food Inspector.

Registration is also encouraged for small-scale egg producers with fewer than 3,000 laying hens who want to sell eggs to grocery stores, restaurants, or other food businesses. An egg producer selling directly from the farm to individual customers does not need to register, but if that producer begins selling eggs to food businesses, they should register at that point. There are egg handling and package labeling requirements that exempt egg producers must follow. Again, there is no fee for registration and normally no inspection. The form for registering as an exempt egg producer is the same registration form as the one for exempt poultry producers. For more information, see the MDA’s fact sheet: Sale of Locally Raised Eggs to Food Facilities.

Contact the MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division for more information: 651-201-6027.

Farmer’s Perspective: Lessons Learned

It’s Never Too Late!

Cindy and Jeff learned about the form to register with the MDA as “Exempt Poultry Producers” (see “Licensing, Inspections, and Registration for Poultry and Egg Producers” Resource Tip box) while this case study was being prepared. It was a surprising discovery, because they felt they had done their homework. They had reviewed regulations, talked with experts, attended Webinars, and participated in seminars related to the laws surrounding poultry production, but they had not come across this particular form. As soon as they discovered the form, they registered and got their exemption permit promptly from the MDA without repercussions. Being able to show they had done their “due diligence” was an important part of the positive outcome. They hope their story will prompt beginning poultry farmers to get registered right away and also encourage more advanced farmers to get it taken care of too.

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