Organic livestock producers face stiff challenges when it comes time to kill their animals according to certified organic standards.
Over the last decade, a number of factors have led to the closure of many small plants and the consolidation of larger processing facilities.
At the same time, consumer demand is increasing for specialty products such as natural, hormone-free, organic, grass-fed and humanely raised meat.
Producers who are working to meet these growing markets or those who are located far from the nearest abattoir may be left out in the cold unless they have access to appropriate slaughter facilities. One solution may be the use of mobile slaughterhouses that travel from farm to farm, providing a flexible, sanitary, humane, government-inspected, economical “kill and chill” service.
Northern regions of Europe have used mobile abattoirs for slaughtering farmed reindeer and musk oxen since the 1950s. Nowadays, a few multi-species units handle all types of livestock and game, from sheep to buffalo, and meet strict requirements of the European Union and global markets.
One such unit has a trained staff of eight people who can process 40 large cattle or buffalo in an eight-hour shift. The Lopez Island mobile slaughterhouse in Washington state is used for beef, hogs, goats and sheep.
It was designed and developed by livestock producers belonging to the Islands’ Grown Farmers Co-operative and Washington State University at an approximate cost of $150,000 US.
The producers’ goal is to serve their community’s demand for high quality, locally produced meat.
After nearly three years in operation, the co-op has reached full capacity for its “farmgate to plate” system, which is paying for itself.
In Canada, Cliff Munroe of Alberta Agriculture is optimistic that one or two units will be built in the next couple of years and will use the Lopez Island model as a starting point for a made-in-Alberta design, although it will likely be larger than the American version.
He anticipates that since the American unit is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a similar one for use in Canada should be acceptable to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
In addition to niche markets, mobile abattoirs could also potentially serve northern areas where processing plants don’t exist. In the Abitibi region of Quebec, producers are building a mobile abattoir to be ready this spring. They plan to process small-carcass beef, pigs, sheep, farmed deer and caribou.
The Lopez Island unit is a modified Featherlite trailer, pulled by an F450 diesel flatbed and contains three sections: processing; refrigeration and storage.
It carries a 10 kilowatt diesel generator and holds 1,200 litres of potable water. Total length of truck and trailer is 15 metres and the combined gross vehicle weight is 14,500 kilograms.
The cooler can hold 10 steer carcasses or equivalent amounts of other animal types, such as 40 lambs or 20 hogs. Normally, only one person runs the entire operation, accompanied by a USDA-paid inspector.
Producers are responsible for live animal handling and are charged $75 per steer. The worker stuns the animal with a captive-bolt pistol, and then cuts its throat in a secure stall, pen or chute located on the farm premises.
Once the animal is bled out, the carcass is hoisted using a cable winch into the nearby mobile unit, where it is dressed out and stored in the cooler.
The unit returns to the cut and wrap facility, which is owned by the Lopez Community Land Trust, where carcasses are hung for aging, cut into portions, wrapped and stored for market distribution.
Offal remains on the farm, where it is
Next month’s column will discuss the benefits and challenges of mobile abattoirs.
Jane Morrigan, M.Sc., P.Ag, is website co-ordinator at the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada. Please send comments or questions by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.One month after publication, OACC newspaper articles are archived at www.organicagcentre.ca.
Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Western Producer.