By Matt Reese
From small-scale start-ups to large operations, there is not a shortage of people in Ohio interested in producing more livestock. There is, however, a well-documented shortage of meat processing capacity in Ohio.
A possible solution to this perpetual meat production bottleneck is mobile meat slaughter, which can offer a number of advantages, including a nimbler way to meet the strong and growing demand for local processing.
But, technically and legally, is mobile meat slaughter even possible in Ohio?
To find an answer to this question Paul Dorrance, a producer consultant, author, speaker, and regenerative agriculture advocate from Ross County, teamed up with Angela Blatt with the Ohio Food Policy Network (OFPN), sustainable food system consultant Rachel Tayse, and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet). For several years, Dorrance raised pasture-based livestock on a small farm and marketed directly to customers. In this venture he saw the limits to the potential for small farm livestock production on the processing side and the possibilities with a mobile meat slaughtering system.
“I’ll be honest when I went into the project, I was really hoping that mobile meat slaughter was going to be this big thing that solved all the problems, and that’s not the case, it never is,” Dorrance said. “But we found mobile slaughter is something that that would be potentially beneficial.”
They started out just trying to determine if mobile meat slaughter was even a feasible option for Ohio.
“We were told over and over again, ‘No you can’t do that here. You can’t do mobile in Ohio.’ But nobody could really point to a real reason. The answer was ‘no’ because it’s always had been ‘no.’ We started with trying to answer the question, ‘Why?’ Why is mobile slaughter off the table for Ohioans? And then if it were to be back on the table does it represent a real potential solution to the issue? Does it help? Does it hurt? Does it not matter at all? So, the first question was why is it off the table? And then the second thing was to explore the possibilities, benefits the and shortcomings of the system,” Dorrance said. “As it turns out, the first part actually ended up being the easiest to answer. We went straight to the source and talked to folks at the Meat Inspection Division at the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the answer was absolutely ‘yes,’ mobile meat slaughter is totally legal. As long as it’s inspected and within the framework and the regulations, you absolutely can do mobile.”
Another part of this project was to do site visits to learn more about mobile meat slaughter in California (the newest operating mobile unit in the country) and the Washington (the oldest mobile unit operating in the country). A new mobile slaughter facility costs in the neighborhood of $200,000 and is contained in a trailer pulled by a semi-truck. The unit has to be inspected at each location that needs to be capable of handling the waste from the processing including the hide, offal and wastewater. There are a number of ways to address these challenges, including composting offal on the farm hosting the mobile unit and the wastewater can be run through a traditional lagoon system.
“It’s just like any other slaughter facility. The same regulations apply in the sense of inspection. The inspector goes to where the unit is and watches all of the kill process and does all the same inspection on every animal just like they do in a brick and mortar facility. As the unit repositions, the inspector would follow them. If the facility goes across the road, then they have to do a post-cleaning and they have to do another pre-cleaning. That’s one of the one of the lessons that we learned,” Dorrance said. “In my mind, with a mobile unit, you’re hitting several farms in a day. That is technically doable, but everybody who’s currently operating around the country said your limiting factor is that inspection time. That inspector has 8 hours to spend with you for the day and if you’re going to spend 2 hours of it cleaning and re-cleaning, it’s hard to make it financially feasible. So, at most, people were going to one location a day, setting up shop there and then slaughtering, even if that meant producers were bringing them animals in from at least a shorter distance from other farms.”
In conversations with inspectors, some parts of mobile meat slaughter are actually preferred.
“We talked with multiple inspectors as part of our site visits and the inspectors that we talked to and the folks that were working within the processing plant both found the mobile unit to be highly desirable. We heard that over and over again and again,” Dorrance said. “Inspectors said this was a sought-after job compared to a brick and mortar — there is just something about connecting with the farmers going out on a new site every day. They really enjoyed it and they were fighting over who would get the mobile unit.”
Mobile meat slaughter is also highly dependent upon a central cold storage location and packaging facility, which are not included in the mobile unit.
“After the kill, the next steps are the same as the brick and mortar in which you need some sort of cold storage to offload them, like a refrigerated truck. Then you need further processing like a packaging and cutting facility. In the examples we saw they had the rail system seamlessly take the carcasses from the trailer and you just push them right through across this little trolley. if you’re doing any sort of aging, dry hanging or anything like that then you’re going to need cold storage space to offload the day’s worth of work in and then keep track of all of those animals as they move through the rest of the system,” Dorrance said. “So, the mobile unit would need some sort of collaborative cold storage or an existing processing facility.”
With this in mind, a mobile meat slaughter unit could be a fit for an existing meat processor with extra cold storage.
“We found that a lot of times the limiting factor for existing processors wasn’t space in their coolers or workforce issue, it was more about only being able to move so many through the door in a day. Maybe a mobile unit represents something that would benefit them from an expansion perspective,” Dorrance said. “In Ohio, every processing facility I’ve ever talked to is an all-in-one shop, but when we went out West they have very separate kill facilities, then they have cold storage and then they have cutting and packaging facilities all separate, so you can take one and choose all of your different parts between here and there. That is where mobile slaughter can fit in.”
There are certainly challenges, but mobile slaughter can offer significant benefits to farmers in terms of saving travel time, expense and stress on the farmers and the livestock, and ultimately providing a better end product for the customer.
“There have been a lot of different studies regarding the effects of stress on carcass quality, but relatively little effort to understand or minimize the effects of stress from transportation. It’s just regarded basically as an unavoidable cost on a balance sheet,” Dorrance said. “Quantifying the potential increased carcass quality and reduction of product loss through mobile slaughter is an area needing further study.”
There is a mobile slaughter effort underway in Ohio.
“When we started this project there were none — most people incorrectly thought that it was illegal to do here. Since then, we actually have one unit that got started in Russellville (Brown County) and that’s very exciting. They’re getting everything started and squared away, are scheduling visits to their trailer by appointment, and they are envisioning an educational component as well,” Dorrance said. “The bottom line is that through the course of this project we’ve determined that it is 100% legal and available for folks to consider. Now our project is really about supporting folks who would consider mobile as an option now that it’s on the table.”
For more about the project, visit https://acenetworks.org/lfpp/.
I live in Ashtabula county and am interested in a mobile slaughter unit for my meat chickens. As it is hard to find a processor who will fit in producers under 1,000 birds. We would like to be able to sell on farm.