Local farmers struggle with shortage of butchers and meat processors


BURLINGTON, Wisconsin – Local farmers say it is currently difficult to fit their cattle into meat traps due to labor shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts could soon impact everyone who buys beef.

At the 4T Acres farm in Burlington, Jean Gruenert sells Scottish Highland cattle directly to consumers.

“I sold them, I just can’t get them into the butcher’s shop,” Gruenert said. “They don’t lack meat as much as they lack processing.”

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Meat processing facilities are beefed up – understaffed and overwhelmed amid the continuing labor shortage caused by the pandemic. At the same time, the art of butchery is an aging profession.

At Ray’s Butcher Shoppe, southwest of Milwaukee, business is booming. But young people are showing less and less interest in learning about the important job of butchering.

“A lot of our guys have been here for 15 to 20 years,” said Scott Podd, co-owner of Ray’s Butcher Shoppe. “Mike over there in the meat department, he’s been here about 23 years, Andy has been here about 20 years, and I myself have been here about 20 years.”

That’s part of the reason Phil Schmidt, president of the Wisconsin Meat Processors Association, says the groups are pushing for butchery to be introduced into trade schools and technical colleges.

“Maybe more people would go for it, learn more about it,” said Podd, when asked about the idea. “Right now, if you don’t really walk into a place and ask ‘guys, do you have a vacancy’, it’s pretty hard to get in. It’s pretty hard to start.”

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In the meantime, it is almost impossible for small farmers to bring livestock from the farm to a meat locker for processing. Jean Gruenert has six cows that should have been brought in for processing this fall, but she said she was “unlucky”.

Some other farmers drive countless hours to open appointments and pass the freight costs on to their customers.

Gruenert says his cattle will likely eventually climb the ladder to be sold at more than half the value – around 89 cents a pound instead of around $ 2 a pound.

“It’s very hard on the small farmer and it’s frustrating,” Gruenert said.

And, although Gruenert doesn’t sell to grocery stores and restaurants, she believes the same impact will be felt by all consumers of meat in the near future. Especially since big farmers are facing similar problems and the holidays are fast approaching.

“There are a lot of factories and feedlot farmers who, because of that, have had to cut back on their consumption and get rid of their animals as well. They don’t have big lockers.”

A new perspective on the difficult process of getting food from the farm to your table.

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