Guidance for expanding small-scale meat processing

June 5, 2020

This article appeared in the May issue of Acreage Living, the monthly newsletter of ISU’s Small Farm Sustainability Program. Read more and subscribe.


More consumers want to buy meat directly from producers due to supply chain challenges from COVID-19. But Iowa’s has limited capacity for small-scale meat processing. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau governs processing within the state of Iowa. The bureau’s staff is fielding numerous calls related to expanding small-scale processing.

Here is some basic guidance for different types of processing and direct sales of meats in Iowa.

Two Black Angus cattle on pasture.

If you are selling a live animal directly to an end consumer for them to process at a local locker or on their own, you do not need a license. Meat lockers don’t require state inspection and can obtain a license for custom-slaughter on behalf of an end user. However you may not sell meat from these animals after the fact. Do a search for the CUST filter to find custom-exempt lockers in your area. End consumers of live animals do have the option to butcher the animal themselves.

What if you are selling meat from your livestock to home consumers or businesses within the state of Iowa? Then you must have the animals slaughtered and processed under inspection by the state of Iowa. Search for 1ACB or 1B on the filter list to find those plants. If you are storing meat processed in this manner on your property for later sales, you may also need a warehouse license from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to license your meat freezers.

Contact IDALS with questions

Class learns about cutting pork carcasses in meat locker.

Contact IDALS directly if you’re interested in establishing a new fixed processing facility, regulating a home butcher shop, or establishing a mobile processing unit. They can discuss with you all the options, regulations, and licensing needed for each option.

For more information, contact the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Meat and Poultry Bureau at 515-281-3338 or by email.

ISU Extension has flowchart guidelines to help walk producers through meat sales.

More resources

Raw steak with herbs and chili peppers.