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“Where have all the butchers gone?”

For many, the first news of a meat crisis was around the same time as the toilet paper crisis…thus many believed it was only temporary mass panic emptying the shelves. Maybe part of it was. But another part of this was known to farmers before the meat ran out in our local grocery stores, and some fast food restaurant chains up in New England. We heard murmurs in local communities and contacts across the state about mass-slaughtering at the “baby animal factories”. Piglets, Eggs, young chickens, etc. Some farmers went so far as to rescue what they could.

And then there came some reports of big processing plants shutting down…either from authorities as a precaution, or due to cases of the virus among workers. With no processing plants, it was assumed all these masses of livestock would create a bottleneck on butcher day with no facilities open, so companies had to cut their losses, tragically.

The pressure shifted to all the small/family-owned processing locations. They weren’t shut down due to their ability to safely stay open and follow protocols. As the meat-shortage-panic spread among cattle owning families/small farms/farms without onsite facilities to process, the small butchers got swamped. I spoke with quite a few employees about their situation and it is SO discouraging! One employee told me that they have FOUR PAGES of people/farms on a waiting list. Another of our butchers I called to cancel one of our dates in June, and they were SO excited and thanked us, saying that the 3 farms they’d be able to call will be so thankful to us. While I’d love to be happy about the fact that I am making someone (or 3!) happy…the tragedy is that this is NONSENSE. Another butcher that I called to discuss 2022 dates with, explained that the majority of their bookings are people who panic-booked…claiming spots weekly or monthly, never having done so before and most likely unable to fill those slots when the time comes. They confided their frustration that some of the larger businesses lost their option to process at the huge butchers (some out of state), so they knew their big numbers, booked 2 years in advance, and are taking up many of the slots that usually went to long-time-faithful customers who would butcher a few animals per year.

Needless to say, cancelations are expected on a massive scale, and these small processing companies will be unable to be fill many if they are on short notice (no shows). Everyone loses.

It’s extremely frustrating. We can only speak for our 3 butchers, but they are booked solid through 2022. While a couple are venturing to book into 2022 (I’m sure they’ll be booked in no time for the whole year if so…), some are refusing to schedule that far out, hoping to see which customers pull “no-shows” and can then refuse them service in 2022. Some of the processing companies are setting up fines/deposit systems immediately for no shows, and have sent letters out to inform us of the new policies.

As of this month, we haven’t seen a price increase for our farm, but we know it’s only a matter of time before the stress, expense, need for more employees/hands, will up the cost.

“Panic booking is so unfair to everyone”, another employee told me.

Why is this happening?

1) Pandemic:

The fear of beef shortages, which were legit, as grocery stores meat sections went bare, and every chest freezer regardless of size, was sold out at every single appliance store and hardware store. Yep. If your freezer died in 2020, too bad for you! They’re made in China, being held in California, and maybe 1 each week gets on a truck for each hardware store. At one point, one of the owners of a processing company told us we could sell our little cube freezer for more money than our entire butchered cow, he said people are that desperate!

2) Cattle prices:

Cattle are the one livestock animal that has NOT jumped in price, unfortunately for ranchers. It’s dropped if anything. Rather than sell your cattle (dairy or beef breeds) at auction, it’s better to slaughter them and gather friends and family to go in on the butcher fee and get a better return on your culled dairy/beef cattle.

3) Shut down:

Big processors closed down in 2020. Its a legitimate concern that at some point in 2021, a few of the small ones will have to shut down too (if anyone gets ill). “Get as many done on borrowed time” may be one sentiment. This type of panic bookings are a security measure that are pushing out out all the small families and farms that butcher 1 – 3/year and now are on a waiting list.

4) The new administration:

It’s no secret that half our nation, often the rural or farming communities, fear the coming overreach of progressive politicians. After all, farming is some of the hardest work with the least profit. They stand to suffer the most when we begin hearing politician’s socialist and anti-capitalism plans. However noble their ideals may be, it’s a threat to a farmers livelihood. Taxes, regulations, equal opportunity, minimum wage, fuel prices due to foreign fuel…the list goes on.

The cause-effect is that people are rampantly acquiring livestock (at 2x-3x it’s value since 2019…), To “run for the hills”, become self sufficient homesteaders, and go off grid when (they believe) the poo will hit the fan. Pardon my French 😜

In 2020 everyone got Chickens for eggs, goats or a cow for milk, and many Homesteaders acquired young cattle too, and are set to butcher them in 2021 and 2022, further flooding the schedule and waiting lists. The knowledge of these waiting lists themselves fueled an even bigger panic, confirming the fears of conservatives.

Sadly, there is no going back now. It will most likely get worse.

“What do we do??”

Find yourself an awesome local farmer 🙂 Make sure they’ve got dates at their butcher. Get as much beef as you feel you’ll need. Do you want it grain finished? Make sure the farmer does that. Want it grass finished? Make sure the farmer does that. Do you care if it’s dairy or beef breeds? Double check. Ask for a photo of the cow in the trailer on its way to the butcher. Hope they don’t Fib.

Yep. Not joking 🙂 Be informed, do your research, and POUR your support on the good farmers who are honest, reputable, and awesome. Steer away from those you don’t have a good feeling about. Don’t just believe the farmers at markets, do some digging and investigating.

“What is Hawkfield Manor doing?”

We are in a good place, by a miracle.

We had already anticipated this, and are on VERY good standing with all our processing companies. We have enough scheduled that we feel comfortable with to keep our customer’s freezers happy 🙂 We will be frequently calling the butchers to find out when they’re opening 2022 for slots, so we can plan it the same. Our freezers are currently full with the January processing slots so it’s a good place to be in, heading into spring.

We are so thankful for 2020…we sold so many 50lb boxes, and the feedback has been a huge blessing! If we can help you stock your freezer this year, we would love to.

Our hope is that we will grow enough this year to keep Hawkfield Manor thriving, but stay small enough to offer the quality you’ve come to love in all we do.

Peace and Hope,

Heather Hawkins @ Hawkfield Manor

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