​​Buying Meat Differs from Buying a Live Animal

Highland Rim Cattle

​Buying beef directly from the producer doesn't always mean you are buying meat. In Tennessee it can mean you are buying all or part of a live animal.


Tennessee consumers who are interested in buying local beef often seek out a cattle producer in their community. Many wish to stock their freezer with high-quality meat while supporting the local economy. Buying beef “on the hoof” is relatively easy to do, but Rob Holland, director of University of Tennessee Extension’s Center for Profitable Agriculture, says consumers need to understand the intricacies of making such a transaction.

Unless producers have a farm-based retail meat permit and follow other regulations, they cannot sell meat, says Holland. “Producers can sell consumers a live animal or a share of a live animal, but they cannot sell the processed product.”  Holland says the cattle producer should provide the buyer a livestock bill of sale to document the transaction and ownership transfer of the animal. Consumers are then able to have their animal processed and the meat packaged to their specifications at a custom-exempt meat processing facility.

Holland says a cattle producer may offer to deliver the animal to a processing facility as a courtesy or a service to the consumer, but the buyer is responsible for dealing with the facility as to cut specifications and packaging. “The new owner should pay the processing facility directly and make arrangements for when and by whom the product will be picked up from the facility,” Holland adds.

Custom-exempt meat processing facilities only harvest and process meat animals for the owners of the animals. They are exempt from the continuous, animal-by-animal USDA inspection required of facilities that process meat for retail sale. Custom-exempt plants must still be permitted by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and are occasionally inspected for sanitation procedures, packaging, handling and storage of product. They are USDA-registered and are inspected by USDA two to four times annually.

An additional nuance to purchasing custom-processed beef is that it may not be resold. “Custom-exempt operations provide a service for livestock owners as well as hunters of wild game. Meat from these facilities is prepared for the exclusive use of the animal owner and may only be served to non-paying family, guests and employees of the owner – it may not be sold,” Holland emphasized.

“Owners of animals may harvest and process them for their own consumption without permit and inspection. However, people may not provide custom harvest and meat processing services for others without adhering to regulations and permitting for custom-exempt meat processing facilities,” he said.

For more information, see resources available
online for no cost at the Center for Profitable Agriculture website, ag.tennessee.edu/cpa. Just click on the link to “Program Areas” and the link to the Value-Added Beef Program. The Center for Profitable Agriculture is a joint effort of University of Tennessee Extension and the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.



Rob Holland, director, Center for Profitable Agriculture, 931-486-2777, rwholland@utk.edu
Megan Bruch Leffew, marketing specialist, Center for Profitable Agriculture, 931-486-2777, mleffew@utk.edu