Local Meat Processing: More Humane, Less Expensive Options

Mobile units and other small-scale meat processing facilities can help meet the need of farmers who want to sell their meat locally.


| October/November 2012



Local Meat Processing

Farmers often have trouble finding local meat processors: Local meat units can help fill the gap.


Photo By U.S. Department of Agriculture

Demand for local, humanely raised, grass-fed meat is growing, but at the same time, local meat processing facilities have been going out of business. As a result, small-scale livestock producers often have to travel farther to find a meat processor, which means greater fuel costs and time investment for the farmer, and more travel stress for the animals. Another issue is the relatively high cost of meat processing: The more money farmers have to spend to slaughter their animals, the more they have to charge for their meat.

A growing number of farmers are addressing these issues by taking slaughter into their own hands. One example is the Jeffries family of Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, who decided to build their own hog slaughter facility after their former processor retired a few years ago. Because they’re building it themselves, and because the completed facility will be small (so small that it’s sometimes called nano-butchering), the Jeffries expect the total cost of the project to be much less than building a traditional meat processing facility — plus, it’s a great way to expand their business and reduce their processing costs.

Another farmer who took slaughtering into his own hands is Daniel Dover of Darby Farms in Good Hope, GA. Five years into the pastured poultry business, he will sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000-9,000 birds. That’s impressive by any standard. Dover must transport those birds to the Foothills Pilot Plant in North Carolina for processing. Every two weeks he drives four hours with a load of 350 live birds. He stays overnight and drives back with 350 chilled carcasses. That’s 400 more miles on his truck and two days away from the farm — inefficient by any standard. The enterprising Dover makes the best of the situation by purchasing local biodiesel for his truck and hiring on at the slaughter plant while his birds are processed.

“I’m a regular employee on the processing line, being paid by the hour,” he says with a grin.

Well, not exactly a regular employee, because the others are North Carolina prisoners on work release. Foothills Pilot Plant is a clever partnership of two North Carolina universities, independent livestock producers, rural development agencies, and county government. The diverse partners cobbled together money from nearly a dozen sources to finance the plant. An estimated 35,000 chickens and rabbits are expected to pass through the doors this first year, but the operation will not show a profit until there is a sustained annual pass through of 50,000 animals. A creative approach to affordable labor is just one of the ways the plant cuts expenses while growing that customer base.

Their goal is conservative. Even as the direct-to-consumer market continues to expand, major chains are seeking their share of locally grown meats. Chefs ranked locally sourced meats as the number one food trend for 2012, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association. As for retailers, Whole Foods Market plans to purchase 22,000 pasture-raised birds for their southeastern stores alone this year. Those birds will come from White Oak Pastures in southwest Georgia, diagonally across the state from Darby Farms. Besides selling to Whole Foods, White Oak Pastures provides chicken, beef and lamb products to Publix Supermarkets, independent stores and directly to consumers from their online catalog.

marta nielson
10/26/2012 4:43:50 PM

Glad to see this article! Just what I've been looking for - we have a mobile slaughter unti here in San Juan hCounty Washington - a county made up entirely of islands - but imagine my surpise when I learned that in order to sell any meat butchered locally - after the mobile unit does the slaughtering - it has to be shipped off island to the mainland a distance to get the USDA seal of approval and then shipped back! Local "grass fed" beef sells for $12.00 a pound! Not exactly affordable - or sustainable? Hope the article gives me some insight into getting around this major obstacle.






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