Working Effectively with Your Processor


Today the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network (NMPAN) conducted a webinar titled Working Effectively with Your Processor.

For those of you not familiar with NMPAN, it is an eXtension initiative intended to help small-scale meat processors with various aspects of their business.  The interests of NMPAN affiliates vary — some are there to assist processors and some are there to assist livestock farmers.  My notes and thoughts about this webinar are outlined below.  Presentations were made by Kathleen Harris of Northeast Livestock Processing Service Company and Bruce Dunlop of Island Grown Farmers’ Cooperative.

Take Home Messages

I was attentive during the hour-long webinar and scribbled down some point that I thought were very important.  To be honest, I was skeptical of how good the program was going to be when the webinar started with “small plants are more humane and food safety is better.”  Just like farms, small size is not an automatic qualifier for food safety and humane practices.  Then, the meat presentation became much more palatable.  Key points made:

Scheduling and Delivery:  Though you might have to schedule something six months an in advance, that’s the reality of the situation.  Visit with the slaughterhouse or nearby livestock farmers to see if there are other animals that can go on the truck to fill the load, making travel to and from the processor more efficient.  Be punctual with animal drop-off and meat pick-up.

Communicating with the Processor:  Use the butcher’s cut sheet.  This serves as an order form and is usually indicative of what the processor is capable of doing.  Make sure all of the directions are provided at the time the animal is dropped off at the plant.  Also, it typically does not help the farmer or the butcher when the farmer contacts the butcher all the time.  When the order is complete, you’ll be contacted.

Cooperating with the Processor:  Personally, I found these points to all be excellent.  In fact, 5 of the 10 “Commandments” as they were called, had little to do with the animal or the meat — it was about how to treat the processor.  The messages included:

  • Don’t be demanding
  • Be sensitive of their time
  • Compliment them on their work
  • Be grateful and appreciative
  • and respect them

It sounds like a lot, I know.  Yet one of the concluding messages was simply  that the processor / butcher / slaughterman or whatever you want to call him or her is providing the farmer with a service that the farmer is either unwilling or unable to do.

The farmer and the butcher couldn’t go on without one another, yet there are a lot more farmers than butchers.  That means that the butchers has to deal with many different farmers and (coming from a family of famers) understand full well and good that such a situation means being faced with a lot of strong opinions and personalities.  The farmers often say they’re frustrated.  Well, so’s the butcher, so maybe we should just step it back a notch and figure out how to work together on this.

2 thoughts on “Working Effectively with Your Processor

  1. I totally agree with you Chris
    I also tuned in and almost walked away when I heard the small and humane comments. Large or small, the meat industry as a whole needs to work together better and comments like those do nothing to help the situation. There is room and need for both large and small plants in the marketplace today and both offer services that the other can’t match. I liked the ten commandments of working with a processor and while it was geared towards meat processors, what company or staff member wouldn’t want those same general principles applied towards them? We have found that our best customers are the ones who make us a “partner” in their business and share with us their vision and goals.

  2. First, I liked the 10 commandments. Seems like common sense, but obviously it is not. We are partners. Partners work together, rather than this push & pull that is all to common.

    With that said, a few notes I have.

    Withholding cut instructions to induce longer hang times is a very bad idea. This is common in our shop. It doesn’t work. We’ve seen it so much that I can smell it coming. Don’t even bother trying this. At our shop, I schedule our cutting just as I schedule our slaughter. We have little time and have to operate like a well oiled machine in order to get all the work completed. I do this scheduling once a week on average. Basically, over the weekend I’m scheduling our next week for cutting. If your cut order is not available to me, you won’t get cut that week at all. If you call in during that week, you won’t get cut until the next week. If you are a repeat offender, you will get a standard cut and we will move on as normal.

    In my experience, this is the common scenario. Farmer drops beef off for slaughter. Farmer doesn’t leave cut order. Farmer waits until exactly 2weeks later to phone in the cut order. This lands on a slaughter day. Issue #1: I don’t have time to take your phone calls on a slaughter day. Issue #2: Farmer believes his/her beef will then be cut exactly right after he/she phones in the cut order. Not going to happen. Schedule is already made for the week (you are not in it) and it is a slaughter day which means we are not cutting. Next day, farmer calls again wanting to pickup their meat. Not ready. You didn’t have your cut order to us in time to have it included in the schedule. Now, you wait. Aging will be accessed additional fees.

    Better option: Be up front. If you ask me to hang 14’ish days, that is what I will do. The hang time (at our plant) will never be exactly 14 or 21 or 28 or whatever days. We do not cut on slaughter days. We do not have the manpower to do this. The same crew responsible for slaughtering the animals are the exact same people who will then be processing your meat. Here, we prefer to know the expected hang times when the slaughter is scheduled with us. This enables us to better schedule the processing of the animals rather than having the surprise of an additional cutting work load that wasn’t planned. This also creates issues with cash flow. If I expected to be paid w/in 2’ish weeks and I’m not paid until 3 or 4 weeks, that’s is a lack of funds that I couldn’t plan for. Check with your processor to see what best fits with their scheduling.

    Regarding special instructions for hides: Check with your processor at scheduling the animal. This should be worked out long before the livestock is delivered. We are not making money on your hide. If we’re lucky, we’ll recover expenses from rendering fees and kill floor labor which keeps your kill bill to a reasonable level. All to common, farmers think the kill bill is simply for the shot. It is not. This entails much more. Time involved in offloading your animals, moving animals around, labor to skillfully skin & dress, etc… not to mention clean-up which can be extensive, especially the holding pens.

    Calls: I don’t need a babysitter. We don’t have the manpower to be on the phone all day. If we are on the phone, we are not processing meat. When the meat is ready, I will call. If there is an issue, I will call. Basically, if you don’t hear from me then all is good. Relax. Check with your particular processor on their manpower & capability of being able to handle the excessive phone calls. It is overwhelming for us at times and puts a kink in our productivity chain.

    Kudos on using the processor’s own cut sheet! Luv that. Great advice. Honestly, the only actual cutting discrepancies we’ve ever had are those that made their own cut sheet.

    In short, check with your own processor on what works well for them & you. Find a compromise in there somewhere. Plants are individually owned & operated. We have different needs. It is best to be on the same page & work together.

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