Farmers turn to mobile livestock slaughter
Georgia is the nation’s biggest producer of broiler chickens, but small farmers for years have been pushed to the margins of this lucrative industry because they don’t have access to local industrial slaughterhouses. Run by big companies, such slaughterhouses process thousands of birds an hour and will not slow down for a small order.
So small-scale poultry producers have been forced to take their livestock out of state for slaughtering. That costs extra time and money that they can barely afford.
Now, a possible solution is being explored that has caught on elsewhere: mobile slaughterhouses — vehicles where livestock can be killed, quartered, packaged and frozen.
Farmers in at least a dozen states have put slaughterhouse equipment in enclosed trailers that can be taken farm-to-farm, processing anything from rabbits to bison. It’s mostly an intermediate step, a way of helping small growers produce more meat until demand increases enough to merit a fixed slaughterhouse.
Decades ago, farmers could pay slaughterhouses to process livestock under the eyes of government inspectors, making it legal to sell that meat to consumers across state lines. By the 1950s, the U.S. chicken industry was consolidating into large corporate chains that tightly manage their chickens from birth to supermarket shelf. Lacking customers, independent slaughterhouses closed, creating a gap in the market for small producers.
The mobile slaughterhouse is commonly viewed as an intermediate step, a way of helping small growers produce more meat. If the market grows large enough, building more slaughterhouses becomes feasible.
There are drawbacks to mobile facilities. Farmers must provide much of the labor. While cheaper than a bricks-and-mortar plant, mobile slaughterhouses entail maintenance and transportation costs, according to a 2012 study commissioned by Georgia Organics, a nonprofit group that represents growers and customers.