Building Permanent Culture in Knoxville
I've gotten several inquiries into what farmers can do in Tennessee to slaughter their own chickens and sell them either on farm, at farmer's markets, or at a retail store. I did some investigating by calling John Sanford at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Dr. Kathleen McAnally at the USDA. They were both very helpful and this is what I found out. There are 4 steps to selling your own birds under USDA exemption:
1) Set up your slaugherhouse: Tennessee does recognize the 20,000 bird or less and the 1,000 bird or less exemptions set by USDA as long as you follow health, labeling, and record keeping rules explained here:
2) Let the county health people check out your setup: To be in total compliance with USDA, you will need to get a 'letter of approval' from your local health department. This entails calling in the same people who inspect spectic tanks. They will want to know your method of disposing of the waste...feathers, blood, and parts. They may also want to know where your water comes from and how you treat the waste water. Composting is an acceptable sanitary method for the poultry waste, you just need to have the argument to back it up when they ask questions. Might be good to have some official literature in hand (here's some info on safe composting: http://umaine.edu/publications/12e/ ). Once you have this letter, have built your slaughter station to standards, are labeling your birds, and keeping records, you are in compliance with USDA. Once again, you do NOT need any official inspection by the USDA OR the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
3) Let USDA know you're going to operate under the exemption: Once you've set up your sanitary chicken-slaughter facility to regulations, you do need to call the USDA to let them know you would like to begin operation under the USDA exemption (call Dr. Kathleen McAnally at 601-927-9920). They will not come out and inspect you--because right now there is not an official 'exemption' certificate, but they will call the state Agricultural Regulatory Services to let them know you have their 'blessings' for a retail meat license. They can 'spot inspect' you at any time after that call if they have a reason. Though they aren't really looking for violators,it was expressed that non-compliant chicken-sellers are often reported by rival compliant chicken-sellers. Spot inspections can occur under the USDA Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review (OPEER).
4) Get your retail meat licence: Last, you will need a state retail license to be in compliance with Tennessee rules on the selling of anything retail. Call John Sanford at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Regulatory Services Division (615-837-5193). He will have already gotten a call from Dr. McAnally (see step 3) giving USDA's blessing for your exemption. You will then send in your $50 and be in business! You'll be able to sell your birds on farm, at farmer's markets, or at a retail store.
This is the 'official' policy on chicken slaughtering that John Sanford sent: Official TN chicken slaugher exemption.docx
Tennessee has a unique system of allowing farmers to operate under the exemption with a minimum of inspections and paperwork. For example exempt farmers do not need to be inspected on a 'schedule' like other exempt slaughter facilities in TN do (like deer processors).
I've heard a few stories from farmers who have experienced difficultly working with the State of Tennessee Department of Agriculture in slaughtering under the exemption. When it does work, it works through the good working relationships between individuals within the USDA, TN Dept of Agriculture, and the farmers themselves. There is alot of grey area which can be interpreted differently by particular individuals. It would be nice to work toward clearer rules that minimize the difficulty small producers face in working under the exemption.