One common question we get asked is, “where can I take my chickens to be processed?” This question is a large one, and it relies largely on what you intend to do with the meat after it is ready for human consumption. Some questions to consider about chicken processing:
- Is the meat for home use?
- Do I want to sell meat? If so, am I wanting to sell directly to individuals, at a farmer’s markets or in a grocery store?
- Do I plan on storing the meat in my own freezers for sale?
Why home processing may not be for you
In many cases, backyard poultry owners are comfortable with processing their own chickens, but there are a few instances that individuals may not want to process their birds at home. The cost of the equipment for butchering chickens may be too expensive, maybe the birds are pets, or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable with the slaughtering process and knowing what to do with all the feathers, internal organs, blood drains or other waste created when processing chickens. If you’d like to learn how to processing chickens at home, the end of this post has some resources for you to explore!
For some, it’s not possible to process the birds at home because there’s not a processing area, or maybe you want to sell your chicken meat. Below we’ve outlined the many options for taking your birds somewhere else to be processed, regardless of if it is for home use or to sell!
Processing for home use
Many times there are friends, family or local Amish/Mennonites who are willing to process a few surprise roosters you got in your backyard flock. This is a feasible option for home use as some of the facilities processing birds intended for resale will not take just a couple chickens at a time. So when you find yourself stuck with just a few mean roosters, your best bet would be to post in a local backyard chicken group to find someone willing to process a small number of birds. If you are in Iowa, contact us and we know a lot of people willing to process poultry that is intended for home use!
Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to sell poultry processed at home under an exemption. You will still need an established processing area, but a full processing plant is not necessary to process birds and sell directly to someone else.
Iowa’s Ruling on selling poultry .and the FS727 published by Iowa State University both clearly explain the guidelines for selling poultry in Iowa.
If you intend selling processed poultry, the options below are available for small producers looking to sell processed poultry. Be sure to be in contact with the facility as soon as your day-old chicks arrive, as most inspected facilities are booked with slaughter dates well before the season begins. Also, many of the places are seasonal and you will not be able to book between November-May.
In both of these types of inspected poultry facilities outlined below, the poultry itself is inspected by a staff of either the state or the federal government (USDA). The state of federal government staff is present while the bird is alive to ensure it is a healthy bird, and the staff is there until the bird is in a package with the seal of inspection on the package intended for resale.
State inspected poultry
These facilities allow for the sale of poultry within your state. In Iowa, you can find the facilities at the document listed below. They are few and far between, but check the document often incase a new facility opens! In our experience, state facilities often only offer processing of a whole bird, yet consumers want to purchase individual cuts of chicken. On the bottom of the document, you will also see custom exempt facilities. These places are approved facilities, but only for home inspection. The difference between custom exempt and Iowa officially inspected is that there is an inspector on site at the officially inspected sites, but the custom exempt sites have had the facilities inspected.
USDA inspected poultry
These facilities allow for the sale of the meat anywhere in the United States. If you plan on shipping meat, or live near a state border, a USDA (federally inspected) facility is the best option for you. When your meat leaves the processor it will have a stamp certifying the meat was inspected by a federal employee.
This link is a map of all USDA facilities in the USA. You can filter by state and area to find one near you. After you have the list, you will need to call the facility or do a further search to see if they take individual producer’s birds. Many of the places on this list are like Tyson’s for example and are large processing plants only processing for themselves.
On the link above, this is how to enter the search filters to find poultry plants in your state or bordering states. From there, you will hover over the blue dots to view the facility information. Sometimes it is easy to tell if they accept birds from small producers. For example if the name is Purdue Chicken, it’s likely they are only processing their own products. Off this map, as of 2024, only two of those 127 facilities take birds from home producers, but I check it often for updates.
Questions to ask the processor:
- Is there a minimum number of birds to bring?
- How are the birds packaged (freezer bags, not packaged, etc)? At a state or USDA inspected facility, the birds should be bagged because they need the seal of inspection, but we have been to a few custom processors that do not bag chickens!
- What is the drop off and pick up process? Are my birds frozen after processing? Be sure to arrive with coolers, ice and other means to transport your packaged poultry!
- What cuts and offal do you offer? Some places only offer whole chickens!
- How should my birds be delivered? Some places require special poultry crates
- What breeds do you process? Some facilities will only process cornish cross broiler chickens. It is rare they will process old layer hens, ducks, or geese.
What other things should I know about the butchering process?
- Some of these types of facilities are required by your state in order to sell birds. There may also be extra licenses required to store or take your poultry product to farmer’s market or other retail outlets. For example, in Iowa, we also need a licensed freezer to store the frozen product to be sold.
- Do not send sick birds to the processor. Typically, you will be charged a fee if the bird is not healthy and the processor has to dispose of the bird
Looking to process your own meat chickens? Here are some of our favorite resources that will walk you through the whole process of processing a broiler chicken:
In person course for processing your own chickens:
Contact us if you are in southeast Iowa! We often decide to process some birds at home just for fun and to bring others along to learn how to process their own meat!
Online Courses for Processing your own chickens:
Stay tuned as we are working towards having something online for others to learn how to raise and sell poultry.
My friend Beth at The Declercq Homestead has a great online course to teach you how to raise and process poultry at home!
Some equipment you will need to process at home:
Be sure to have visited our blog post Essentials for Raising Chickens!
killing cone (can be made from a 5 gallon bucket)
plucking machine: This is not necessary, but it sure is helpful to process at home! If you are local to us, contact us to rent our plucking machine and scalder!
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