DURHAM — If you raise cattle, pigs, sheep or goats in Maine and want to sell your product to your neighbors or the general public — retail or wholesale — you must use either a USDA inspected slaughter facility or a state-inspected slaughter facility.

There are only 14 such facilities in the state. If you want to ship your product frozen across state lines, you are down to 10 facilities. Many of them are so busy, they either won’t take on new customers or you must plan up to a year ahead to get in line.

Poultry is an entirely different question with a separate set of regulations.

A bill in the U.S. Senate, known as the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption, or PRIME Act, would give states the option to certify custom slaughtered meats for sale to consumers, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and more. Custom slaughter and processing means there is no state or federal inspector on duty and the product is for personal use, is marked “not for sale” and cannot be sold.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

According to congressional records, the legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky. The King-Rand bill is considered companion legislation.


When the legislation was first introduced in the House, Pingree said in a written statement, “Congress must act to make it easier for local farms to compete with these big meat companies and make locally raised livestock processing more widely available. A farmer in Maine shouldn’t have to drive hours to get to a USDA-inspected processing facility when other safe options are available.”

When the companion bill was introduced in the Senate, King noted that, “in Maine, a growing number of consumers are looking to buy locally-produced meats. But as farmers try to match that increased demand, the most significant barrier is the capacity to have meat processed,” which the PRIME Act bill is intended to address.


Just off state Route 136 in Durham, the Old Crow Ranch sits on 70 acres at 427 Davis Road and is considered a midsize cattle and hog ranch in Maine. Owners Seren and Steve Sinisi have been raising cattle and hogs for close to 20 years. They are also partners in Farmers’ Gate Market, a retail and wholesale outlet on their ranch with a second location in Leeds, where their new butchering facility is and where they practice the dying craft of whole animal butchery.

The Old Crow Ranch at 427 Davis Road covers 70 acres in Durham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Their 60 to 80 head of Angus and Hereford cattle are truly grass fed and the 60 to 75 hogs are pasture grazed. Seren Sinisi and her husband offered up slightly different opinions on King’s bill, with Seren Sinisi supporting it.

“As far as the PRIME Act is concerned, it seems to me like it will allow a lot of smaller homesteaders to be able to get their meat slaughtered and processed — where that is a definite bottleneck in the state right now,” she said.


Steve Sinisi agrees there simply are not enough slaughter facilities in the state. He likens the proposed bill to the food sovereignty movement, where municipalities can enact a Food Sovereignty Ordinance, essentially a law that allows you the right to raise and feed yourself and your neighbors, as long as sales are direct from producer to patron. There are at least 113 municipalities in Maine with such an ordinance.

“There’s a reason they kept milk and dairy out,” he explains, recounting a conversation he had with a dairy farmer friend, “and he’s like, listen, one person gets sick, we’re all getting a bad name, you know this.”

The farmer and rancher is very concerned about food safety and a tour of the Old Crow Ranch and retail butcher shop clearly show the owners practice what they preach. Cleanliness and order are strictly adhered to, and even though it is mud season, the farm is impressive.

Steve and Seren Sinisi hug at the crossroads April 4 at Old Crow Ranch in Durham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“The thing is that there are food safety (rules) for a reason,” Steve Sinisi said. “We as humans are too far removed from how to safely do stuff. My fear is, where is the education piece because with everything you have to educate the consumer,” adding the same applies to the people doing the slaughtering and butchering.

“Where’s the school? he said. “Who’s going to teach people how to do this stuff? Where’s the humanity of someone doing something to an animal? It doesn’t exist in Maine.”

“I understand where Steve’s coming from with his hesitation for cleanliness,” Seren Sinisi said. “And not to cast shade, but people are just so removed from how food gets on their plate. It’s so foreign to so many people. It’s worrisome. So, that education piece has been foremost on our brains and hearts.”


The Sinisis have been raising cattle and hogs for sale long enough to know they need to be organized and plan ahead. They take their cattle and hogs to a state-inspected facility 20 minutes away, so their animals don’t spend a lot of time on a trailer. The slaughtered whole animals are then delivered to the Farmers’ Gate Market butcher facility in Leeds weekly, where they are butchered and packaged for sale.

Pigs mill about April 4 at Old Crow Ranch in Durham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


The simplest solution to Maine’s slaughter facility deficit would be to build more. But slaughter facilities are expensive to build and equip, much less staff. According to the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, building a small 5,000-square-foot facility would cost at least $2 million. Steve Sinisi adds there simply aren’t that many people who know how to do whole animal butchering anymore. Culinary schools are not teaching slaughter, although a few still teach butchery skills.

Steve Sinisi said he’d like to see more on-farm slaughter, but it has to be done with health and safety at the forefront. “It has to be a certain type of facility. That’s not out in the mud — dispatch an animal and hang it by the tractor.”

“It does take infrastructure,” he said. “And in today’s world, everything needs to be washable, everything runs on chain motors. A medium-size smokehouse costs $150,000. I mean come on — what small farm is going to put that in? But yet, communally if you get five farms to build it that doesn’t work. It still has to be in a certain way, in my eyes, that you’re giving a safe product to the consumer.”

A bird’s-eye view on Tuesday of Old Crow Ranch in Durham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal



The USDA tells us there are 7,600 farms in Maine, operating on 1.3 million acres. The number of beef cattle is at 11,000, with about 4,500 hogs. That said, blueberries, potatoes and produce remain a big focus of the agriculture industry, but ever since the pandemic, many consumers have taken a closer look at where their food is coming from. Inflation and higher costs at the supermarket are also forcing people to rethink what they buy.

For farmers and ranchers like the Sinisis, a heartening side effect of the pandemic is that it drove people to find their farmers again.

“One of the things as we were selling out in the pandemic, Steve and I looked at each other and said, hey, if we can keep even 15% of the new customers who have found us, we’ll be able to survive,” Seren Sinisi said.

“I think that Maine is really lucky in having a vibrant agricultural scene and people who really do know and care and look for quality and look for the story and look for the source,” she said. “Oh, you mean I’m standing on the farm where this meat was produced? That’s awesome and at both Farmers’ Gate locations, we can say that!”

“Seren said it so beautifully,” her husband said. “I’m spending so much time and energy trying to raise animals that I feel proud of, that have a good quality of life that are raised to as close to a symbiosis of nature as possible.”

Farming and ranching are hard work. Vacations are rare and animals need to be constantly monitored. It’s more than a full-time job, it’s a way of life for people like the Sinisis.


“This is our livelihood,” Seren Sinisi said emphatically. “It takes everything we have every day to make this happen. We are both working our butts off full time in this endeavor.”

Would they do it all over again if they had the chance to rewind? You bet they would.

A display case is filled with products April 4 at Old Crow Ranch in Durham. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“My position has always been I am not a farmer, I am a farmer’s wife. I know that’s silly and foolhardy because I can speak the language just like he can, but I’m doing back end, I’m doing household and sales and marketing and all that. So, this guy needs to answer that for himself and I have seen him sparkle and shine farming and that’s why I’m here.”

As for Steve Sinisi, he said he would absolutely do it all over again. “I know I would have made some different decisions along the way if I knew what I know now, but yes, because to me this isn’t just my livelihood and a job. I want to know that I did something to better this world than just use it to my advantage. I believe in giving back more than you take and that’s just me though.”

The Farmers’ Gate Market butcher shop is open Wednesday through Saturday in Durham while the Leeds retail shop is open Tuesday through Saturday. Store hours are different, consult the website for specific times at each location, at farmersgatemarket.com.

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