We finally made it through the holiday time. In the meat industry, it is chaos as everyone gets ready for large meals with family, and a lot of people enjoy cuts that they only get once a year. Prime rib roasts, pork crown roasts, smoked hams, and smoked turkeys all flew out the door. January usually hits a lull as everyone slows down from the holiday, but I am seeing the planning starting to come around from my farmers market customers.
Farmers raising livestock have to make sure they look well into the future to figure out what they need to raise and when. The average age of a beef at slaughter is 14-18 months of age. If you are raising grass-fed animals, you might be looking up at 24-36 months of age to get the size you want. Hogs are usually 6-7 months of age at time of slaughter. Lambs will be in the 4-6 month range depending on the size you like them. That means that when you want to sell pork chops, you have to be thinking 7 months in advance to make sure that hog is on the ground, and even longer yet to insure your animals are bred. It takes a lot of work and daily care to make sure that those high quality animals are ready to enjoy.
I have some customers who are booking their cattle and hogs as they are preparing for the upcoming farmers markets. They are starting to pull old records to see how many animals they did last year, and trying to figure out if they are going to be short, or if they will have excess to sell.
If you have been dealing directly with a farmer to purchase beef, pork, or lamb, this would also be a good time to talk to them to let them know you would be interested in the upcoming year. A lot of times the farmer needs to know well in advance so they can make sure you get some of their product. I’ve even had times when farmers have sold all their animals to the point they had to find another farmer to buy from in order to fill their own freezer at home.
Tom Eickman, a third-generation meat processor, is co-owner of Eickman’s Processing Co. in Seward. He is a past president of the Illinois Association of Meat Processors, and is a founding member of the Local Foods Work Group at the University of Illinois Extension–Winnebago County. He blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.