New York City Live Animal Markets
Robert J. Melchior
(Market Coordinator for the Northeast Sheep and Goat Marketing Program at Cornell University from 2000 until his death in 2002)
New York City has always been the gateway to the melting pot. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." So reads the inscription penned by Emma Lazarus for the Statue of Liberty which stands in the entrance to New York harbor. The 2000 census indicates that 41% of New York City's population was born outside the United States. The source of these immigrants is no longer primarily from any particular region of the world as it was a century ago from Europe. Today's immigrant population is a mix of people from every part of the Earth. While seeking freedom and opportunity, and accepting the reality that huge adjustments will be necessary to survive in the new culture, these peoples bring with them customs and preferences that lead them to cluster together to try to preserve some of the practices that are familiar and comfortable.
Consider the purchase of meat. The American public has become so trusting that the product they purchase in supermarkets is healthy for them. In fact, the American public has lost all the skills that people in third world countries have; to recognize whether an animal is healthy and should be consumed. Further our choice of meat is so limited. Where are we to purchase goat, rabbit, guinea hens or other species, which may have been familiar fare in our country of origin. Consider then, the establishment of live animal markets in the great metropolis where the consumer can select an animal from a pen and then have it custom slaughtered under his direction, perhaps with the addition of his blessing or prayer. Markets like this have existed in NYC for some time, originating primarily for the sale and slaughter of poultry and now having expanded to the slaughter of small ruminants. There are some one hundred such poultry markets around NYC. Occasionally, they can be found near our other large cities. From lists provided by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, we have been able to identify over twenty markets which provide, slaughter and process sheep and goats. Information on these markets is included in our Marketing Directory under "Live Animal Markets".
These markets are for the most part neighborhood markets, serving the population of the community around them. Thus, areas with Hispanic populations have markets that provide those animals most commonly consumed by Hispanics. Being as heavily populated as New York is, with many ethnic communities existing side by side or even existing in the same space, most markets can serve more than one ethnic group. Also, replace the Muslim slaughterman with a rabbi or provide small lambs at Easter and varied religious groups frequent the same market. Each market is unique and different from its neighbor. Some also develop loyalty of customers, who as they become prosperous and move to more affluent areas, return for holidays or special occasions for specific types of livestock, which are not available in their new communities.
Combined, the twenty or so markets selling lamb and goats process large numbers of animals. Statistics on total slaughter are not currently accumulated, and for the most part, lamb and goat represent only a secondary species for the operations. That said, it would be hard to justify remaining open and maintaining the equipment and facility doing less than fifty or so sheep and goats a week. Holiday periods also bring huge demand with some markets killing close to a thousand head in a week. Utilizing the 50 head a week average estimate, operating 52 weeks a year for twenty plants yields a demand for 52,000 animals, which by far exceeds the demand from the USDA plants in the rest of the state. These live animal markets process and distribute a significant portion of the production of sheep and goats raised in the Northeast or imported into the region. Therefore, it is important for farmers to be aware of the needs of this sector of the industry when preparing their production for market.
As mentioned above, each market is different, but universally, the poultry section is in a separate room or section from the sheep and goats. Slaughter facilities for each are also separate. The animals are held in pens and have access to hay and water. Hay is of the highest quality. Sheep and goats may be held in the same pen, but usually there are several pens in each shop. Animals rarely spend much more than a week on premises.
In these markets, livestock sell by appearance. While some markets may seek out stinky billy goats or older sheep, most look for younger animals free of health problems. Excessive wool, manure tags, foot rot or paint markings all detract from the saleability in this environment. Heaviest demand is for lambs in the 50-80 lb. weight range and kids from 40-70 lbs. However, it must be emphasized that each market has its own specific preferences
Retail stores and slaughterhouses are both labor intensive. Owners and managers of most of these live animal markets seem to prefer to remain close to the operation rather than travel to obtain supply. A small number of dealers and order buyers dominate the distribution to these markets. These dealers have to be in a position to supply weekly throughout the year and be able to meet the specific needs of the market. Among those specific needs can be the need to provide augmented supplies of specific types of animals for certain holidays. Those few market owners who do travel outside the city to obtain their own livestock generally buy at Hackettstown (Livestock Cooperative Auction of North Jersey) or New Holland.
Prices paid for supply to these markets can be at a premium to what is received in the terminal markets. This clearly represents the time and expense involved in supplying these establishments. While these markets may represent a marketing opportunity for some, their importance to the collective sheep and goat industry is more in the volume of live product flowing to the city and meeting consumer needs with quality American livestock. The challenge is to determine how your product can be positioned to fit into this flow and take advantage of this demand situation. Clearly, selling young, clean, healthy kids and lambs and making an effort to supply at periods of peak demand is the first step in meeting the needs of this trade.