Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Slaughter Business Thriving in Up-State New York

Unfortunately, all of these places mentioned in the article below are within a 50 mi radius of my home.

When the owners of Eagle Bridge Custom Meat & Smokehouse opened the
doors of their new slaughtering facility in November, they expected to
kill no more than 1,200 animals by the end of their first year in
business. Just over eight months later, they’ve easily surpassed 2,000 animals —
including pigs, sheep, goats and cattle — and are booked solid through
December. Calls for appointments from small and mid-sized farmers within a
300-mile radius show little sign of abating.
"We’ve had enough requests that, if we weren’t careful with our
schedule, we’d become overwhelmed pretty quickly," said Debra Bell,
operations manager at the slaughterhouse, located in southern
Washington County.

Eagle Bridge’s tight schedule highlights what many who raise animals
in the area say is a pressing need: access to a safe, clean and
dependable slaughterhouse where dignity and quality are paramount.
Across the country, and in the Northeast in particular, demand for
locally raised meat is growing, and producers are multiplying. As the
market has grown, though, producers say a vital link in the chain
between farm and table — the slaughterhouse — is lacking.
Federal statistics underscore the point. The number of federally
certified slaughterhouses has steadily waned over the years, as large
producers took hold and consolidation occurred.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest statistics,
there are now just 13 federally certified poultry slaughterhouses and
35 federally certified livestock slaughterhouses in the state. That’s
half the number that existed two decades ago.

Federal certification is required for any slaughterhouse that produces
meat to be sold at markets or to restaurants. Farmers in the area who raise animals for sale say the lack of certified facilities has forced them to make appointments with
slaughterhouses months, if not a year, in advance. It’s a timetable
that can make raising the animals difficult.
The lack of facilities can also lead to more time away from the farm
for farmers who have to transport animals to a slaughterhouse. The
transportation itself increases costs and diminishes the end product,
farmers said.
Still, farmers who raise animals in the area say they are better off
than most of their peers across the country. In addition to Eagle Bridge, Washington County is also home to Locust Grove slaughterhouse in Argyle, which has been open since 1972. Both
facilities are federally certified. Several state-certified slaughterhouses also exist in the area, though meat processed at those businesses cannot be commercially sold.
There is also a slaughterhouse in Greenwich that specializes in
chicken, ducks and turkey and can process up to 20,000 birds a year.
"For some people, it’s two hours both ways, and I don’t think we could
afford to do that," said Karen Christensen, who operates Mack Brook
Farm in Argyle, a certified humane farm that sent more than a dozen
grass-fed bovines to Locust Grove last year.

"It’s a huge concern for a lot of people in this business, so we feel
very fortunate to be within 10 miles of a slaughterhouse," she said.
"We’re the envy of most people we talk to."

Mike Yazzi, of Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan, knows what it’s like to
travel long distances to find a slaughterhouse. When his farm opened in 2001, he transported pigs to Connecticut for slaughter. As the operation grew and slaughter services were needed on
a weekly basis, though, Yazzi said it became clear the model wasn’t sustainable.
With 300 to 400 pigs slaughtered each year, having a location like Eagle Bridge close at hand, he said, probably trims around $25,000 from his annual costs.
"That’s a big number for me," said Yazzi, whose pork products are
largely sent to restaurants and markets in New York City.

Slaughterhouse numbers have been falling for several reasons, industry
experts say. The lack of a stable work force and strict federal safety
and health guidelines are among them.

At Locust Grove, for example, a federal inspector is on site eight
hours a day every day. Reams of paperwork have to be filed for every
animal slaughtered, and tests occur at nearly every step in the

"It’s a whole new industry now," said Bill Tripp, who said his Locust
Grove facility originally catered only to farmers looking to get meat
for their own families.
Large start-up costs are also a barrier. At Eagle Bridge, family
savings had to be used to turn what was a processing facility into a
full-service, animal-welfare approved slaughterhouse.
Pens, additional cooler space, a 45-foot trailer to hold and transport
rendered product, a scalder and additional staff were among the
investments that had to be made to grow the business. Previously,
Eagle Bridge offered only processed and smoked meats.
Eagle Bridge’s owners say they were confident they were making a wise
investment. After raising animals of their own, they experienced
firsthand how difficult it was to find a slaughtering facility.
"We knew the business was there," said Stephen Farrara, Eagle Bridge’s
manager, during a tour of the facility recently. "We realized there
was a niche."

The stresses are particularly acute in the livestock and pork trades
because those products are more often purchased rather than homegrown.
People who raise chickens, ducks or other birds in their back yards,
by contrast, are more apt to slaughter and process the animals
themselves. Still, the Garden of Spices farm in Greenwich, a poultry
slaughterhouse run by Ben Shaw, is busy. Demand has steadily grown in
the five years the farm has been open, as more people begin to raise
their own birds, he said. Shaw said he expects to process around 20,000 birds a year for farmers
from the Canadian border to the Catskill Mountains.
"When someone comes in and says they’re thinking about opening a (meat
processing) facility, I try to encourage them," he said. "The main
reason we opened was that we wanted to raise birds ourselves on a
large scale, and there was no facility around."

Interest in local meat isn’t likely to abate any time soon.
Farmers and slaughterhouse operators say they think concerns over food
safety, along with new emphasis on local foods, will only increase
over time.

Restaurateurs like Jason Baker are driving the demand.
Baker owns Black Watch, a Glens Falls-based steakhouse, and he raises
cattle on a farm in Easton and has them slaughtered and butchered at
Eagle Bridge. The process typically yields around 600 pounds of beef
every two weeks. On the menu, it’s sold as the ‘Farm du Jour,’ a meat that Baker said
has unique marbling and a "delicate floral flavor," honed through a
carefully controlled diet. Having a local slaughterhouse to help make the dish possible, he said,
is "huge," and helps patrons, chefs and servers at his restaurant gain
a better understanding of where food comes from.
"I think it’s really important to have a relationship with your food
and to have a respect for an animal who gives its life," he said.
"Just to realize that food doesn’t come out of a vacuum, people can
take that for granted."
Posted in Local on Monday, July 12, 2010 1:00 am Updated: 12:08 pm.

Tags: Slaughterhouse, Farming, Eagle Bridge

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