Live Animal Markets

Inside One of NYC's Live Animal Markets

By: Tove K. Danovich (@TKDanovich)

While the days of the meatpacking district and commercial slaughterhouses are in the past for New York City, remnants of the city’s bloodier history still exist. Known as “live markets,” these small slaughterhouses accept shipments of animals ranging from chickens to goats (and apparently the occasional cow), killing them to order for customers who prefer their meat fresh. Susan Trock of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets told New York Times that New York probably has the highest concentration of live animal markets in the country.

Though there are still live markets in Manhattan, they’ve mostly moved to the edges of the city — above 100th Street or in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in Queens or Brooklyn. In areas like the Bronx where live markets proliferate, more than 33 percent of the population is foreign-born. New York City also has the largest population of Arabs in the United States, many of whom are Muslim and can only eat halal meat. On holidays like Eid el-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, millions of animals are slaughtered worldwide. Many New Yorkers will take part in the tradition when they purchase from their local live markets.

Louis Badillo, owner of Jackson Avenue Live Poultry Market in the Bronx, has been in the business for about 18 years now, though the market itself has been around for closer to 75 years. He says most of his clients are Hispanic and in the neighborhood his business is known not as a live market but a vivero.

Though he didn’t exactly grow up dreaming of owning a live market, since he and his father started the business it’s become a family affair. Overall, it’s not so different from running a grocery store — he orders his animals from distributor-middlemen who deliver them by truck.

Because of their size and the fact that the meat is being sold directly to the consumer, Badillo’s business and every other live market in New York City are classified as a “custom slaughter facility” by the USDA. This exempts them from the requirement that a USDA inspector be in house at all times. “They’ll come unannounced once every two weeks or so,” says Badillo of their own USDA inspection process. “They want to see all our books and make sure everything is being bought through a regulated USDA wholesaler.” The city health department also checks to make sure markets are up to health and animal welfare standards.

Because these markets have to care for live animals, the most important part of Badillo’s job is anticipating consumer demand. A goat that remains in house for an extra week is taking up time and money. However, if the market is running low on supply, getting an extra goat last minute is a bit more difficult than ordering more steaks from a distributor. “We tend to order the same amount every week,” Badillo says. “We know our numbers unless it’s a holiday.”

Poultry, which is the market’s main seller, aren’t ordered individually but in the form of crates. Every evening workers check their stock — in this case live animals — to see if they need to order extra. “Red style” (essentially red hens) are the most popular seller, and Badillo orders roughly 150 crates a week with around 14 chickens inside each crate. The other types of poultry come mixed together. Badillo adds on another 70-80 of these crates a week. It’s a surprisingly large amount of volume for a type of market that many New Yorkers aren’t even aware exists.

To get the animals, Badillo uses a network of wholesalers who deliver the animals from the farm to his door. His birds come from nearby Pennsylvania, though the goats make a longer journey, all the way from Texas.

Though exhaust and garbage become background noise in the perfume of NYC, do animal fur and feathers belong? Modern Farmer, which keeps a pulse on urbanite fascination with farming and agriculture, had a Q&A on how to legally slaughter animals on your own property. How welcoming will new residential neighbors to the Bronx be to live markets? How might inspections of “custom slaughterhouses” be scrutinized as interest in food safety and transparency continue?

The animal smell of a live market is unmistakable. For people used to getting their meat in grocery stores, the blood and sweat next door are unwelcome. Yet to the mostly immigrant population who purchases their meat from live markets, it’s simply how food is supposed to smell — like iron, sweat and dinner.