Company explores sow processing in Moose Jaw

British Columbia pork processor Donald’s Fine Foods is considering a cull sow plant in Moose Jaw, Sask.

The company, which already owns Thunder Creek Pork in Moose Jaw, bought the former XL Beef plant from JBS and has undertaken a feasibility study, said Neil Ketilson, industry relations manager with Donald’s Fine Foods.

“Right now, we’ve got engineers going through it, just assessing it to see what would need to change and what the retrofit would cost,” he said.

The long-time beef plant was permanently closed in 2010. Part of the barn roof has collapsed but otherwise the building is in decent shape, he said. There are boilers, a city sewer connection and other infrastructure that is suitable for a pork plant.

“The coolers are in good shape,” Ketilson said. “They really mothballed the place so that there’s a lot of equipment in there that could be re-used, I think.”

Ketilson said producer support is critical to the project.

More than 80 percent of the cull sows from Western Canada now go to the United States for processing. There are some small sow plants in Manitoba, but Ketilson said there is enough supply for all.

There are 230,000 cull sows in Western Canada each year at a cull rate of about 40 percent. Most of the meat goes into sausages.

Ketilson said the company expects to make a decision in six to eight weeks.

He said the plant would be a good deal for producers because sow values aren’t great and transport costs are high.

He also said it would be good from a biosecurity perspective.

“We’ve done so much work to try to protect the herd health, that going across that border and coming back has always had its inherent risk,” he said.

“And the other thing, out of this whole COVID thing, is I think people are starting to appreciate that we need more and smaller plants.”

It would be an economic benefit to the city and province as well.

The plant would employ about 100 people; Thunder Creek employs 250.

“It checks a lot of the boxes in terms of what people are looking for,” Ketilson said.

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