Home Livestock Are You Really Prepared to Harvest a Market Animal at Home?

Are You Really Prepared to Harvest a Market Animal at Home?

Home harvest is very labor intensive and requires a lot of planning. Photo credit Troy Walz.

Thanks to University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s BeefWatch and Brianna Buseman, Youth Meat Nebraska Extension Educator and Carol Schwarz, Nebraska Extension Educator for this helpful article!

Home harvest is very labor intensive and requires a lot of planning. Photo credit Troy Walz.


Many people are looking for opportunities to buy market animals to harvest at home, which has led to many questions about the best way to complete that task. Prior to making the decision to try home harvest, there are a few important things to consider:

Food Safety

Can you properly cool the carcass and keep it clean to ensure meat safety?

One of the main concerns when harvesting livestock at home is temperature. If handled poorly or not stored properly, meat can be a great place for bacteria to grow.  It is important to cool the carcass to 34-45o F within 24 hours after harvest. In addition to environmental temperature, care needs to be taken to decrease the chance of carcass contamination (feces, dust, etc.) that could lead to bacteria growth. Furthermore, meat can absorb off odors and flavors from the environment.  Scents such as manure, gasoline, etc., can be absorbed and lead to problems with odors and flavors within the meat. If harvesting at home, it is necessary to ensure the environment is cool and clean.

Animal Welfare

Can you ensure humane handling and stunning?

Having the ability to handle livestock humanely both prior to and during harvest is of utmost importance.  This means limiting animal stress and having the ability to effectively stun and exsanguinate (bleed out) the animal quickly.

Meat Quality 

Can you effectively harvest the animal without negatively impacting meat quality?

Difference between good cut (top) and dark cutter.

Meat quality is focused on the palatability of the final product. If livestock are excessively stressed prior to harvest, quality issues can ensue.  In beef, long term stress can lead to a product that is dark, firm and dry, known as a dark cutter. This effect produces a product that not only is unappetizing, but also retains moisture, making it more susceptible to bacteria growth.  In pork, short term stress can lead to a product that is pale, soft and exudative; meaning it is light in color and is not able to hold water well. This results in product that is dry and not very flavorful. Additionally, if exsanguination is not performed quickly and effectively, blood splash can occur within the muscle. A significant challenge when harvesting livestock at home is aging the product to improve tenderness and palatability. Aging requires refrigerated storage space that is clean and limits potential for bacteria growth. Holding meat in refrigerated storage for 7-14 days prior to cutting into retail cuts (steaks, chops, roasts) is beneficial to improve the final product’s palatability and overall eating experience.


Do you have the equipment and facilities to work efficiently, ensure worker safety, maintain a cool environment, and store the final product?

Photo courtesy of Roseman Ranch

From start to finish, the process of harvesting livestock offers potential for worker injury. Having good equipment and knowledgeable help is necessary to ensure efficiency and safety. Prior to harvest, it is necessary to think about what type of equipment you may need, such as sharp knives, hoists, meat saws, packaging and much more. As the meat is being divided into retail cuts, it is necessary to keep a cool environment to limit bacteria growth. Once the carcass is packaged into steaks and roasts you will need plenty of freezer space for storage. Meat from a whole hog will require approximately 5 cu. ft. of freezer space, whereas meat from an entire beef animal will require approximately 16 cu. ft. of freezer space.

Although it may seem like a simple task, home harvest is very labor intensive and requires a lot of planning. While it may be a good decision for some, it is important to think through the entire process prior to making the decision to harvest livestock at home. If unable to confidently answer the questions about how to handle food safety, animal welfare, meat quality and equipment, it may be beneficial to consider other options for harvest, such as working with a local processor.

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Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. The main reason we have decided to butcher our own on farm is not COVID, although that certainly propelled us faster, but the poor handling and improper aging of our animals at the custom processors that has negatively affected our meat quality in recent years.

    • Can you tell us how it’s working for you? Are there challenges not included in the article? Were there things that went better than expected or surprises along the way?

      • Right now we have done just pork and lamb. We have a closet sized walk in cooler where we can chill them. It is not large enough for beef so we are designing a larger cooler we can operate seasonally.

        The challenge is the time from slaughter to chill…only because we are new at it, and having a separate facility in which to butcher, which is in the works.

        Generally though, the results are far superior than anything we have gotten from local processors. So far we have done this for our own family until our skill and facilites are set up. But I feel we will be able to offer our customers a much better product and more premium options than we have been in the past.

        Adam Danforth’s books are excellent resources as are The Bearded Butchers on Youtube.

        I will add that our farm is 100% solar powered and designing energy efficient chilling rooms is a bit challenging.

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