Local Meats: The junior livestock sale

By Christopher R. Raines

If consuming “local food” to local farmers is a priority to you, the local fair may be just the place to find such products!  Take it one more step – the 4-H fair – at which you can support the next generation of agriculturalists.

The county fair

Many butchers around Pennsylvania often associate a certain time of year or holiday with particular cut of meat or as “harvest time” for particular species.  Prior to Easter, emphasis is on hams and legs of lamb.  Fall and Winter certainly bring an influx of venison.  Many weeks in summer are booked far in advance for one reason:  The County Fair.  Livestock projects, consisting largely of market animals, remain one of the biggest “areas” of 4-H projects (and in many areas, the most popular type of project).

The 4-H Clover

The local fair (county, regional, state, etc.) junior livestock sale, where 4-H and(or) FFA exhibitors (youths) sell their market animals, is a fantastic and unique opportunity to buy locally-raised livestock.  In Pennsylvania, there is the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, as well as an abundance of county or other local fairs in the Summer. These young farmers have been through rigorous Quality Assurance training (for example, the “PQA” program) and have invested much time and effort into raising a quality food animal.  Support local livestock producers – check.  If you plan in advance with a butcher (and surely some local meat locker plants are filling up – or have filled up), you’ve also supported a local businesscheck.  Many of these young leaders contact businesses around their community to come support them by bidding and hopefully buying their livestock project(s).  Often, the sale price of these quality livestock are nominally better than commodity prices – yet, I hear reports of “local” (not 4-H or FFA) freezer beef, pork and lamb selling for double to triple the market value.

The idea of buying livestock “for the freezer” is not entirely new, yet it is something new to many consumers.  One of the first questions asked is, “OK, how much meat am I going to get?”  That answer depends on species and how you order the meat cut and how much fat you want in the end-product.  It also depends on the fatness of the live animal.  For example, it is not at all unlikely to obtain 550 lbs. of freezer beef from one 1,150-lb. steer, or 60 lbs. of lamb from one 130 lb.-lamb.  Though you may have some specific ideas for what you want, it is recommended you consult your butcher and get to know of his or her expertise – let them help you.  Often they have “custom-fabrication” order forms that you can use to specify how you want your meat cut.

:: A factsheet on expected meat yields:  The butcher kept your meat? (FILED UNDER MEAT SCIENCE FACT SHEETS)

To find out more about your local 4-H Fair and its livestock sale, check your local paper and(or) local fair guide.  If you cannot locate this information or have other questions, contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

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