Thursday, October 09, 2008

More On Salatin's Custom Abattoir

We are beginning the big move today, so I gotta let you know that things will be a bit brief this week because of all that we will be up to. But, I did want to follow up a little bit on the news that Joel Salatin and a couple of partners bought a custom abattoir. In fact they bought the abattoir that Polyface Farm has used for quite awhile. In part they bought it because they didn't want to lose such a good source so close to them, but also it seems because of an investment opportunity.

I wanted to follow up because a few weeks ago I asked the question, "Is Polyface farm still the small family farm that Mr. Salatin wrote about earlier on?" I purposefully did not offer an opinion either way because I really had none, but rather I asked the question because I figured it would be a question that would come up among those that disagree with his farming methods or that he really is "making" it on the farm (they argue he makes money off the farm).

Well, recently a fequent commenter, Mellifera, posted a link to a fairly long Mother Earth News question and answer article with Mr. Salatin that covers quite a few different topics. Also, Mr. Salatin wrote more about their new business endevor in the latest issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". It seems that it is as much as an investment as it is an opportunity to save an abattoir that they use. He doesn't think he will be spending much time there himself (because he would blue up on the regulators!), but they do think it is business that can be profitable in and of itself.

Polyface Farm sure is growing...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

We're building a USDA inspected slaughterhouse and butcher shop for just our farm. This is not really an expansion of what we do, it won't make us any bigger, but rather bringing under our roof and control a service we absolutely must have to continue to exist as a farm.

The irony is that we'll actually spend about the same amount of time doing it ourselves as it currently takes to work with an outside butcher. The hours we spend is very significant - traveling to and from the butcher each week to drop of livestock and then again to pickup meat, repacking the meat for orders, correcting errors, etc. Because we do this every week of the year it's a big time cost as well as fuel cost.

Another issue is that we need butchering capacity all year round. In the fall it becomes difficult to get our weekly allotment as there is so much demand. Chef's plan their menus months in advance and want to know we'll be delivering to them consistently every week. A one week lost slot at the butcher screws up our distribution to our customers by two weeks because of the various delays in the system. This is a major problem. Linked with this is that during the fall the number of processing errors made by the butcher increases yet we have no recourse - we're locked in with what is basically a monopoly because they have our labels (a complicated topic in and of itself) and schedule.

Then there is the issue that by doing the work ourselves we will have more control over the quality, making sure things are done right to our customers's specifications and that we get all of our meat back every time and never someone else's meat. Those are big quality control issues.

Lastly there's the factor that the number of available slaughterhouses and butchers is diminishing. When we started there were about ten in our driving range. Now there are four and one is going out of business from what I've been told. That will leave us with three. Next year?

Doing our own slaughter and butchering is much the same as use doing our own construction work, pouring our own foundations, doing roofing. Money we don't spend doesn't get taxed and roiled in the system so more of it stays in our pocket in addition to the fact that we have more control over how the job is done. Most importantly, if we don't have butchering capacity available we can't turn our pastures in to plates of meat for our customers and we would be one more farm out of business. The decision to build our own slaughterhouse and butcher shop became pretty clear when you look at it that way.

One big difference between our abattoir and Saladin's is that we'll only do livestock from our farm and we'll do all the work ourselvess. There are many reasons for why we're doing it this way including simpler regulations and biosecurity for our farm.

My conclusion is just because Saladin is setting up with an abattoir doesn't mean he's any less than a small farmer. He is simply, wisely gaining control of one more process in the chain from pasture to consumer. I applaud Joel in his work to rescue the abattoir and hope that all goes smoothly for him.

G'day,

No Name For Now Please

Steven said...

Anonymous, Joel's last name is Salatin.
So, aside from building and buying the equipment, there is alot more that must go into the process. Like the know how. Do you already know how to do the butchering, making cuts, etc. or are you taking a class or learning from someone that is retiring? How is it "inspected"? Will you have an inspector? Will you be trained to be your own inspector? Or does it just mean that the facility is inspected?

Steven said...

Oh, and I wanted to add that in the article in the SGF it's made clear that Joel still isn't going mainstream, nor adding to the credit crisis. He's actually got a partner and they are doing owner financing with the former owner. This means that they get to pay a lower price for the business and the owner (through interest) gets more money. So, Joel continues to cut out the middle man. :-)

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

anonymous - That sounds like a pretty cool thing that you are doing on your farm. Will it be state inspected operation? This really is a good example of diversification on the farm I guess ... something along the lines of adding a certified kitchen, but with a little more.

Steven said...

Would I be off base in assuming that this "livestock" is of the swine variety?

TBF's Wife, isn't the baby getting close? How are you doing? My wife has about 4 months left to go.

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Steven-
Thanks for asking. :) My due date is Nov. 14th, but Caleb and Hannah both came early - up to about 2 weeks early. So I'm going to be ready at the end of October with bags packed.

As to how I'm doing, well . . . the building and shuffling from house to house has been a bit hard on me. I've had a bit more discomfort than I would like and am on a 20 lb lifting restriction now. I'm doing a good job obeying orders I think, but boy is it hard! I'm one who likes to be in all of the action and would prefer to not be the one in the chair watching.

I'm sure there will be plenty to do around the house and at the farm after the baby is born though!

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

p.s. The other comments by me are really from Ethan - I must have not logged out after using his computer. Sorry Ethan!!!!

Anonymous said...

Our farm's slaughterhouse and butcher shop will be USDA inspected which means federally inspected. We are working through the process now of getting our certification of inspection. When we open we'll have a USDA inspector here full time as is required by the regulations.

We already have butchering and slaughtering skills from years of doing it with various species of livestock. Additionally, we have been taking classes on commercial meat cutting with two different retiring butchers for about six months. It's not rocket science as one of the butchers likes to say. By the time we're certified and open we'll have had lots of hands on classes under our belt.

It is an interesting adventure and one that more farmers should consider. The USDA and state governments are more friendly to small farms and small abattoirs than they were in the last few decades. This change has come about as they realized that the loss of slaughter and butchering facilities could mean a collapse of the entire livestock industry in areas. If you can't get the animal 'processed' then it isn't worth raising and you can't get it to the consumer. Thus what Salatin (correction noted) is doing is very important.

NNFN P.

Steven said...

We saw Joel Salatin this weekend at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conf. and it was really a treat! I just thought I'd share a couple things regarding their growth. He said that they are now finishing 300 hogs (I believe twice a year)and at any given time they have 900 head of cattle on a total of 5 farms. All the hogs are on his own farm, mostly in the woods or new "savanna" that used to be woods. He said that they plan on growing the hog part of the farm 5 or 10 fold as they master finishing them in the woods because they have a big market to fill with a local fast food chain buying their pork.
It seems that he is more concerned with local and sustainable than "small". He told us that this past year they sold 1 million dollars worth for the first time!

Yeoman said...

I just started reading his book "You Can Farm", and I'd agree with Steven about his comments regarding local and sustainable v. small.

Saltin never really says that you shouldn't maximize profit, and get as much as you can. Rather, he argues powerfully for local agriculture, and argues it can be successful. His own example is a pretty significant one. To the extent he argues, at least so far, for small expenditure, it's in order that a person can stay on the path of their goals, and so as to avoid superficial distractions.

Given his focus, the acquisition of the local packing house makes sense. And I think he practical example, including the gross income number, is a positive one. We should keep in mind that while many of us who would farm are focused on a certain quality of life, or even a certain philosophy of life, we need to make certain that our arguments demonstrate that a farmer need not become a poor, subsistence only, farmer.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - Thanks for sharing some of what you gleaned from the National Small Farm Conference. Maybe I should do an interview with you so that you can share some highlights...

Also, I can see what you are saying Yeoman about what his goals in farming are, and I may have combined a little bit of Salatin with Logsdon when it comes to their philosophy. But, I still got as I read that it was about family farming ... which I do believe limits the scale at least somewhat. Really I guess that is neither here nor there.

When question that does arise... Steven saw him (I believe) at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference ... I understand that you bring in speakers that can teach ... but, does Mr. Salatin consider himself a small farm?

I ask not because I'm passing judgment or because I believe he is wrong (he can really do what ever he wants). I really am only asking because I'm curious. I do suppose that compared to many of the large agri-corporations 1 million is a drop in the bucket...

6hebrons said...

Dear anonymous,
Your saga sounds identical to ours. We travel to and from three seperate butcher houses to get all our animals processed. Chickens there, beef and lamb over there, and pork way, way over there (to get all natural smoking and curing). We are seriosly thinking of starting one up. The only answers we ever get when talking to people is the fees will kill you, they will never let it happen, it costs millions ect..
Do you have any sugestion on how you started the project, with whom do you meet. what is your estimate on the cost of the facility. Maybe someone else might be able to weigh in also. If this is not the proper place for this discussion I appolagize, but when you find somebody in your same boat it is nice to find out why they are not sinking. Chris H

Ethan Book said...

6hebrons - I don't have an answer for you, but I did want to say this is the perfect place to ask your question ... in fact this kind of discussion is what helps us in all of our farming ups and downs.

Hopefully "anonymous" will come back and give an update or something along those lines...

Steven said...

I wanted to make it clear that Salatin wasn't by any means trying to hide their size. He proudly told that they passed 1 mill in sales, just as proudly as he showed pictures of his son, wife, interns, and neighbors butchering chickens outside.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...