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Bottleneck for Local Food Producers


ShoresDog
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Interesting story in today's paper about how the lack of local facilities hinders the small farmers from their potential customers who want to buy locally and are concerned about how the animals are raised. Some here have posted about mobile units, which are mentioned.

 

Push to Eat Local Food Is Hampered by a Shortage

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We are seeing (and have seen for years) smaller custom plants going out of business. A big contributor to this is regulations that make it harder and harder for small plants to survive. It's a shame. And I am not against reasonable regulations concerned with the production of healthy meat.

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This is a huge issue for us. In New Hampshire there is one (count 'em) USDA slaughterhouse. There's no state meat inspection service, so if you want to sell meat, you have to go USDA. (There are a handful of custom houses where you can take animals for your own consumption.)

 

In my corner of the state, it has always been easier to hit plants in Vermont. Four years ago, there were eight USDA slaughterhouses in Vermont. One is now shut down for animal cruelty (it didn't do anything other than bob calves, and didn't accept outside animals) and one burned down and is not being rebuilt. Shortly after the fire in Vermont, the USDA plant that I had been using in western Massachusetts burned down as well. It has since reopened.

 

Next week, a major new slaughterhouse will open in Westminster, Vt., just across the river from me. Their rates are high, but might well be offset by a reduction in trucking costs.

 

For two years, I trucked animals all the way to New York State for processing. I am sure glad those days are over.

 

Here's an essay that I wrote about the shortage of processing in central New England a couple of years ago: Where good lambs go

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One in our area was family-owned but the younger generation couldn't handle working with the rather cranky older generation - who had built the little plant for the express purpose of passing it on to the youngsters (so I've been told). It's been for sale for some time and I was told the bank finally took it.

 

One newish plant went pretty quickly from custom processing to contract processing of lambs, so it's no longer available.

 

One really nice plant incurred added expense to meet MD standards after being built to USDA standards, and the bank closed down the kill floor last fall.

 

One other place is not too far but we didn't care for the job they did and haven't gone back.

 

One is a bit further to truck to but we may have to return there - they do a fine job but mileage was our issue.

 

The last, in PA, is state-inspected but not USDA-inspected for resale so that's not really a long-term option for us, even though we've tried it once.

 

One big problem we face is custom butchering that doesn't want to do a custom job - in other words, they want to do it their way and not the way the customer wants it done, even when they are willing to pay for what they want. Plus, many places seem to have issues getting reliable help. It makes it hard.

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This:

 

"He and Mr. Vilsack are both urging farmers to band together and open local cooperatives or mobile slaughter facilities."

 

is so true.

 

10 years ago a group of farmers here formed a co-op, and a year later opened the nations first USDA-inspected mobile slaughter unit. We're still run as a co-op, I'm on the board. We don't make money; often we barely scrape by. Just about the only way to see your dividend and equity back is to leave the co-op. Even then, most people donate it back. We believe strongly in paying our staff well so they stay with us through the slow times- and it pays off in the excellent job they do. We constantly battle the USDA, who seem bound and determined to shut down anyone who isn't big business enough to pay them off. Yet, in NINE YEARS of slaughtering cows we have NEVER had one single positive e-coli test come back, never even anything that registered on the tests. Compare that to 30% for a large commercial slaughterhouse.

 

I won't lie- it's a lot of work. It takes a lot of time & organisation to get a MSU together, and even more to keep it running. If anyone here is interested, I can put you in touch with people who know what they're doing. We've made it work for ten years. Without it, I wouldn't be raising lamb for market.

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Bill-

 

There's a flat, $40 kill fee, then it's $1/Lb for cut & wrap. If you get the carcass whole (ie for a barbecue or if you want to cut it yourself, which renders it no longer USDA-inspected) it's just the $40. The $40 breaks down to $36 kill fee + $4 equity. We usually run a "cull rate" program in Jan-Feb-Mar where it's just $60/head for sheep. It used to be that this was just for culls that were boned-out & ground, but when I was looking back at my invoices when I was doing taxes, I see they charged me the $60 for a few cut-and-wrapped lambs. I don't generally butcher lambs that early, but I had a few pesky ram lambs that were busting fences. I think it depends on just how badly the co-op needs the business during the slow time.

 

The price is the same for a goat. I have no idea what the beef or hog rates are, as I don't raise either.

 

There's a newly reopened in situ slaughter house on the mainland that charges the same thing, but no equity.

 

Our co-op has a $300 fee to join (that's $100 membership fee, plus $200 equity), then once you've reached a certain dollar amount, you pay an additional $300 equity.

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Compare those prices to $25 to kill and 65 cents per lb. to cut and cryovac at the plant I currently use, and $25 to kill and a flat $60 to cut and cryovac at the plant that's going to open up next week.

 

Just putting the operation on wheels greatly adds to the price, but I think if I had an option within 150 or 200 miles it would still be less expensive to take the animals to the plant rather than the other way 'round.

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I did a search to see if there were any cost estimates available for starting a mobile slaughter unit, wholly crap, expensive, it would be a major undertaking to get someone to start a mobile business to the tune of $250,000.00. Here is the website if anyone is interested, they go over a bunch of interesting details related to the business, also compares to fixed site slaughter: http://www.extension.org/pages/Mobile_Slau...ons_from_Nevada

 

I wonder if a person could convert an existing trailer unit more economically then having a new one built. We have a single axle Mack with a matching 45 foot tri-axle double ramped trailer for sale for around $30,000.00....

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I did a search to see if there were any cost estimates available for starting a mobile slaughter unit, wholly crap, expensive, it would be a major undertaking to get someone to start a mobile business to the tune of $250,000.00. Here is the website if anyone is interested, they go over a bunch of interesting details related to the business, also compares to fixed site slaughter: http://www.extension.org/pages/Mobile_Slau...ons_from_Nevada

 

I wonder if a person could convert an existing trailer unit more economically then having a new one built. We have a single axle Mack with a matching 45 foot tri-axle double ramped trailer for sale for around $30,000.00....

 

Darn it, they are modelling it for Northern Nevada. I need it here!!

 

I just paid $1.00/lb. to cut and wrap but had to do the kill myself. I've paid as little as $25 to kill and wrap but that was a group rate and over 4 hours away.

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Ah, but Bill, you forget that I live on an island, and there's a ferry fare added in ($100+ for a trailer), and the nearest USDA plant when the MSU was opened was in Oregon- many hours away. The MSU model really does work best for sparsely populated areas with no nearby USDA plant. (The new USDA plant is only about 45 min from the ferry landing... but there's still that ferry fare involved.)

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No, I understand your unusual situation, Ben. I think that's the sort of place where a mobile plant makes sense. It really doesn't in NH and Vt., where the issue is not so much distance and travel expense as actual capacity. (The plant can only cool X number of beef equivalents per day, and can old hold and process X days' work.)

 

Debbie, I would be very surprised if you could set up a mobile slaughter unit that would pass inspection for as little as $250,000.

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I'm an NPR junkie, I admit.

 

I found this story, about the demand for kosher/halal meats that were not only slaughtered humanely but were also raised sustainably (in the spirit of the dietary laws), aired tonight on "Marketplace", of interest:

 

http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display...m-higher-halal/

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Thanks for posting that Alchemist. I heard it "advertised" on NPR on my way home from Church Hill, MD, and meant to mention it here.

 

The blurb mentioned that at least some people looking for kosher and halal meat aren't looking at just the slaughter techniques but also the whole life of the animal up till the time of slaughter. I didn't actually get to hear the story, so can now read it (since I had forgotten about it by the time I got home...).

 

J.

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