If you’re raising poultry for meat and lack easy access to a humane slaughterhouse, a mobile slaughter and processing unit may be the solution. Ali Berlow shows you how to build a unit that accommodates all types of poultry and can easily be moved to any location, making it a great cooperative investment for a community of small-scale farmers. Covering the mechanics of construction, sanitation, safety, and permitting processes, this guide shows you how a mobile slaughterhouse can make your poultry operation more self-sufficient.
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About the Author
Ali Berlow is the author of The Food Activist Handbook and The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse, and the co-owner of Edible Vineyard magazine. Berlow founded and served as the first executive director of Island Grown Initiative, a grassrooots nonprofit that encourages and supports a resilient and accessible local food system on Martha’s Vineyard. She is the co-host of “The Local Food Report,” a public radio program out of WCAI in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She lives in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, and in Putney, Vermont.
Temple Grandin is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human, as well as Thinking in Pictures, Humane Livestock Handling, Improving Animal Welfare, and The Autistic Brain. Dr. Grandin’s humane livestock facility designs have been adopted all over the world, and she is a consultant on animal welfare to several segments of the fast food industry. Her work has been featured on NPR, 60 Minutes, and The Today Show and in the New York Times and Time and Discover magazines. The story of her life was made into an Emmy Award-winning HBO movie titled Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.
Read an Excerpt
Start Here, Get Organized
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
The mobile poultry processing trailer or MPPT, owned and managed by the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative (IGI), was developed because of these early observations:
* If local farmers in our area wanted to run a poultry slaughterhouse, or get the permit from the state themselves, they'd be doing it already and there'd be no need for any other slaughter/processing option. But they didn't, and they weren't.
* If local farmers had a commercial poultry slaughterhouse that was accessible, affordable, and convenient, they'd be raising broilers as a substantial part of their growing plans. But they didn't, and they weren't.
* Many other mobile poultry processing units (MPPUs) or mobile slaughter units (MSUs) in the country were overbuilt, meaning they were too expensive or were being underutilized by the farmers they were meant to serve because of management and training issues. Many are now shelved, or they have cost so much in outlay that it's doubtful they'll ever be financially sustainable.
Beginning Where You Are
Look at your food web from egg to roast chicken. Notice how it involves the environment, economics, policy, regulations, politics, people, birds, slaughter/processing, the kitchen, and the compost pile.
Put your local chicken at the top of a diagram. Now ask yourself, who and what make up the web around your Gallus gallus domesticus?
What will it take to get your chicken from the brooder to the stockpot? Consider the following. In order to support the MPPT you need:
* Chicken Crew
Each of these groups has its own concerns and needs. Sketch this out to help identify what you know already and what you need to learn.
Find Your Founders
Gather people in your community who fall into the categories mentioned above to begin the discussions, dialogues, and actions early and transparently. Identify:
Farmers, who may or may not be raising meat birds now.
Markets and grocers, who hear increasing customer demand for local food, including locally raised and humanely slaughtered poultry. It's unlikely that the supply can meet this demand.
Restaurants, which have chefs and cooks looking to source good chicken. Frequently restaurateurs don't have access to local product or think it's too expensive, cumbersome, or inconsistent for their menus.
Backyard growers, who are raising chickens or want to for their own consumption. This would fall under "custom slaughter" as opposed to "commercial, licensed or permitted slaughter." These backyard growers may well become the next beginning farmers.
Eaters, who are neither farmers nor growers but want to make a difference in creating a healthier and more resilient food system.
Bring in Local Regulators — but Not Right Away
Regulators are part of your food web; however, get your game on a bit before you bring them into your plan. They can't be a part of your founding team, because that would be a conflict for them. And you. It's like keeping church and state separate.
These regulators work in government departments related to public health, agriculture, and environmental protection. Their concerns are:
* Livestock health
* Best farming practices
* Animal welfare
* Food safety (including bioterrorism and traceability)
* Worker safety
* Slaughter and processing licenses
Potluck with a Purpose
Invite people from your food web to meet and discuss your community's needs. Invite the farmers, grocers, restaurateurs, cooks, parents, teachers, gardeners, writers, students, food-pantry volunteers you've identified in your food community — anyone who eats and who wants to work for a better, more resilient local food system.
Let them know in advance that this is a working meeting aimed at assigning tasks and scheduling subsequent meetings. Include possible resources for them to review before they come to your first meeting, such as Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma or Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M. Diamond.
Serve food or make it a potluck. Always include some good, fresh food! This seems obvious, but sometimes we forget that this journey is really all about food. What you serve sends a message, sets the tone.
Have your agenda visible, whether it's on a poster on a wall or easel or on each table. Leave room for discussion — people may be shy at first — but be sure also to stick to your timeframe.
Welcome and thank you.
A reading. Start off with something from Wendell Berry, the farmer, poet, and essayist, or from someone else who inspires you.
Introductions around the room (even if you think everyone knows each other) with one or two lines about why food matters to each person. This gets vocal cords loose. It also helps you to know why people are there and what's the baseline. Listen.
Overview. What's happening in food systems elsewhere.
Discussion of the current options for poultry slaughter in your community. Monitor that this doesn't turn into a bitch session about the processors or regulators.
Determine next steps. Create actions and openly discuss how follow-up will happen: who to coordinate, how best to communicate.
Closing comments. Sum up what you heard. Announce or agree to the next meeting date, review any actions that were set, and say how and when notes will be sent out.
Clean up the kitchen, and take the slop buckets to the pigs!
Set up a sign-in sheet to collect best contact information: e-mails, phone numbers, and mailing addresses.
Use name tags.
Have fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and water on the tables so people don't have to get up for their brain-snacks.
Screen a film (see Resources for suggestions) with a discussion afterward about addressing humane raising of poultry and humane slaughter and processing of poultry.
Assign a scribe to take notes throughout the meeting.
Set up a white board or tape sheets of paper to a wall to gather people's thoughts, ideas, and, most importantly, actions. Make these notes available to everyone who attends the potluck/meeting. Share them on the Internet (such as on a listserve or Google docs) or print out copies and supply them to attendees.
Put pens and paper on each table so people can take their own notes.
Ask your group for names of other people they know who would be interested in helping but who couldn't make your first gathering. You will attract people who are passionate about food, are willing to work in hard in committed way, and want to make a difference and create change in a broken food system.
Keep the meeting lively, focused, and on point. End it when you said you were going to end it.
Follow up with notes. After the meeting, send out the notes and include the actions with names attached to them. Examples:
Find out what state agency is responsible for permitting poultry slaughter and processing in the state of ___________. Patricia will do this by ___________ date.
Contact poultry processing equipment distributors for pricing. Marge will do this by ___________.
Create a farmer survey of questions to ask farmers in your region. Because Melinda knows a lot of the farmers, she will do this by ___________. (See Appendix, page 126, for survey suggestions.)
A nice touch to keep people's interest between your bigger meetings: send out relevant information (such as news stories) to your burgeoning group to help inform, unify, and rally your commonalities and commitment to the project.
Collaborate: Who's Out There Already?
Look around your community. Is there a local food organization, sustainability group, or Transition Group that you can connect with?
Examples include farmers' market and farm-to-school groups, sustainable agriculture organizations, community-supported agriculture (CSA) members, county planning commissions, and economic development teams.
Ways of Becoming
A mobile slaughterhouse can be a private enterprise, or, as a different model, some states own mobile slaughterhouses and run them in collaboration with nonprofits. (See below and page 28.)
IGI took on the MPPT as one of its programs. The initial investment was high, but over a few years and as the program solidified its place in the community, the intensive day-to-day behind-the-scenes work diminished.
The Nonprofit Route
Start your own nonprofit organization or, better yet, find a fiscal sponsor. Investigate nonprofits in your community that may be a good fit for your budding program and can shelter your program as a fiscal sponsorship.
Or you could file for your own not-for-profit or 501(c)(3) status. As mentioned, the MPPT described here was run by a nonprofit. As odd as that first seemed to the agencies, I believe the MPPT's success is largely attributable to the fact that it was run by a local, community-based nonprofit organization and not a private enterprise. IGI's only skin in the game is supporting farmers; it isn't a farmer itself, a farm, a processor, or some other related agriculture business. Trust developed.
Tread carefully, though: starting a new nonprofit is a big undertaking. With good stewardship it can be functional and fiscally responsible. Act with prudence at the beginning of your development so that you don't overreach your capacity as an organization or create expectations that aren't attainable. Avoid making promises, especially to farmers, that you can't keep. As always, be transparent along the way.
Recruit the right board members for your organization. Strong and resilient nonprofits have a diversity of voices and depth of expertise on their board. But that doesn't mean too many people. Seven to eleven tops.
Major donors should remain and be respected as donors. They should not be officers of the board. Otherwise you run the risk that a major donor drives and controls the board and the agenda with the power of money — like the way Big Ag does in the world of political lobbying and policy influence. Diversify your board, open it up to eaters, and commit your program to transparency.
Employ from the get-go a code of conduct that includes language about conflicts of interest and term limits. Robert's Rules of Order (www.robertsrules.org), though seemingly unyielding and out of character for a small, developing grassroots organization, will help provide the structure and formalities that encourage civil discourse among the group. That way, from the most introverted to extroverted, all have a chance to speak safely and be respected by the group.
The MPPT as a Private Enterprise
So you want to run a mobile poultry slaughterhouse as a private business? Do the numbers, research the permits. Buy the equipment (see Resources), lay the groundwork with your regulators, and get the word out that you're open and ready for business. There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to build and run a slaughterhouse.
Depending on your circumstances it will most likely take a good six months to a year to get a poultry program or the MPPT in full swing. Permitting may take longer. In the meantime, keep raising birds if you fall under 20,000 per year as a grower/processor (see Exemptions, page 87) and keep raising awareness (see Education, page 66), money (see Finding Funding, page 28), and confidence in your community.
Gathering the Players
You won't have a mobile slaughterhouse if you don't have farmers who raise livestock. What are the steps in pulling together the active players?
Find the Farmers
For a robust and festive beginning, host a Farmers' Dinner. This event is specifically for the farmers and backyard growers in your community so you can ask them their opinions, share your developing plan, and get your survey back. Invite all farmers whether they raise chickens or not. Listen hard and take good notes.
As said, transparency is key. Work openly and respectfully with the farmers and the regulators in your community. Most likely they are your neighbors. You'll run into each other on the soccer field, at the bank or farmers' market, or in the grocery store. The end goal for everyone is safe, humane food. Understand that from the farmer to the grocer to the eater to the regulator, they all approach the goal of safe chicken through different emphases and missions.
Since you come from a solid place of conviction — the right to create or support a local food system and to eat the food you trust and believe in — transparency and respect will strengthen and embolden your efforts as you proceed down the path of the permitting process (see The Path to a Permit, page 82).
Find the Chicken Crew
At the beginning of your program, you will create three to six part-time jobs because of the MPPT. Here are some steps in your hiring process.
Look for a Crew manager right away, someone with good communication and organizational skills. He or she will schedule the slaughter and processing dates with the farmers and work with local and state regulators as necessary. The manager maintains an online calendar accessible to local and state inspectors so they may see where and when the MPPT is in use. IGI pays the Crew manager a monthly stipend for these duties (see pages 26–27).
Determine pay structure for the Crew. Humane slaughter and processing of livestock is a skilled job with enormous responsibilities. Pay worthy people well (see chapter 2).
Crew wages and farmers' fees are closely tied together, of course (see page 27). Consider that a farmer must determine her processing costs as accurately as possible. IGI's cost-per-bird fee system was based on equivalent wages for the Crew and the general efficiency of a processing. IGI established this over the first few seasons and tinkered with it as the Crew faced different regulations, as well as the obligatory monitoring of paperwork throughout the permitting process.
Place ads in local newspapers for fair-wage poultry processors. Look for online listings and young farmer initiatives.
Prepare to train the Chicken Crew to run the MPPT, schedule the equipment with farmers, and maintain the equipment. (See Training the Chicken Crew, page 50.)
As a nonprofit, IGI was dedicated to supporting island farmers and raising awareness about the importance of locally grown food. As advocates, we responded to the resounding chorus we heard at our Farmers' Dinner: "We need a slaughterhouse." Four-legged, we thought at first, but upon further investigation it became clear. The best strategy was to start small, start inexpensively (manage your outlay and risk), start with livestock that's more manageable, start developing relationships with the regulators, and learn how to do it all well. Start with poultry.
* An increasing number of backyard growers are gravitating toward raising chickens as an entry point to farming.
* The investment for a farmer raising broilers is less in terms of cash, time, and land than it is for sheep, pigs, goats, or cattle.
* USDA federal slaughter and processing exemptions exist for farmers raising fewer than 20,000 birds a year, should a state choose to recognize them (as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts eventually did; see chapter 6, The Path to a Permit, page 82). Add up all the broilers raised on Martha's Vineyard by all the farmers — even after an increase in production from 200 birds in 2007, to 9,000 in 2012 — and there are still fewer than 20,000 birds processed in one year.
7,000 of those birds in 2012 represents about 70 unique processings by IGI. And every bird sells here, within 100 square miles.
Questions Will Find Answers
Even when you've made an excellent plan, barriers will rise. Are MPPT systems up to food safety standards? Are the workers safe and fairly paid? Who are the managers? Who will inspect? Are you setting up your systems with a paper trail of information that can be passed on in a coherent, consistent way, or is it all in your head?
The USDA is mandated by law to inspect four-legged livestock, but federal inspectors are stretched thin. A grower/producer is required to use an USDA-inspected slaughterhouse for poultry in order to sell across state lines. Do you really need to cross state lines?
To establish a paper record, keep every e-mail used in correspondence with regulators. After phone calls or face-to-face meetings with them, write up your notes and send a copy to the regulator(s) for record keeping. This keeps all participating individuals abreast of changing situations, conversations, the clarification of terms, definition of regulations and exemptions, as interpreted and agreed upon by the stakeholders, as your program begins to grow.
Excerpted from "The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse"
Copyright © 2013 Alice Jane Berlow.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Temple Grandin
Cookbook for the Journey - Thank You
How and Why We Began - Postcard from an Island - A Cook's Wishbones
Start Here, Get Organized
Beginning Where You Are - Ways of Becoming - Gathering the Players - Why Chicken - Crossing Cultures, Earning Trust
Money In and Money Out
Figuring Out Finances - Finding Funding - Trojan Units - The Consolidation of Slaughterhouses
Nuts, Bolts, and Values
Coming to Terms: A Vocabulary of Values - Small Really Is Beautiful - Mobile Units Across the Continent - Asunder - What You Will Need
Training the Chicken Crew
The Crew's First Training: Live and Local - Suggested BoH Guide for Chicken Slaughter Inspection - Almost Kosher - Blood and Humanity
Education, Marketing, and Outreach
Education - Marketing - Outreach - Local Grocer + Local Farmer = The True Cost of Food - Public Health and Backyard Growers
The Path to a Permit
Permit Catch-22's - We Raise Permit #417's Flag - Exemptions - The DPH's Reason For Being - Cease and Desist
The Big Day Of
The Farmer's To-Do List - Advice to a Farmer from the Chicken Crew - Advice to a Farmer from a Local Board of Health Agent - Gray Water Awareness - How Many Chickens in a Day? - When Things Happen: Advice from an Advocate - Custom Chicken
Now Cook Up That Lovely Bird
Making the Most of It - Starting with the Whole Bird - Taking Stock - Breaking Down and Deboning a Chicken - It's Offal - Comfort Food
Farmer's Checklist for Day Of - Farmer Survey Suggestions