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Operation helps itself with on-site slaughterhouse

By JANE PRIMERANO
AFP Correspondent

HOPEWELL — (March 15, 2016) Robin and Jon McConaughy decided there had to be a better way and they could create it.
Jon left Wall Street to become a farmer, starting Double Brook Farm, but didn’t want to be part of the commercial slaughter system.
He knew he wanted to create a closed-loop system where he would have control over the slaughter of animals to be used in the restaurant he runs on the farm, Brick Farm Tavern.
McConaughy said the USDA is very helpful to farmers who want to create a local slaughterhouse.
Local, meaning shipping the meat a shorter distance, is considered an advantage.
“They even have a small plant help desk,” he added.
McConaughy said the USDA has established standard operating procedures and sanitary protocols.
Their inspectors analyze for hazards and critical controls, which vary with the species.
There are standards for how the plant is cleaned and classes for the workers in the slaughterhouse.
The USDA looks at everything before the plant can be opened and provides a consultant to work with the operator.
The USDA has certain rules for many aspects of an on-farm slaughter operation.
The operation must provide an office and bathroom for the USDA inspector.
The office must contain a desk and a lockable fire cabinet, but the bathroom doesn’t have to have a shower.
The inspector is a government employee for eight hours a day, but the establishment is responsible for any overtime pay.
Inspectors can be scheduled for half-days in the case of a small operation.
The operation also must include a wastewater management system, approved solid waste disposal and satisfactory water tests.
The main area must include a chill-down cooler and a lockout cage in case the inspector finds a suspicious animal.
Covered holding pens must have water. Other items that must be included are a rail scale, a saw sterilizer and a knife sterilizer.
In addition, the county health department looks at the waste water management of an on-farm slaughterhouse just as they do for other farm operations, McConaughy said.
The state departments of Environmental Protection and Transportation have jurisdiction over solid waste that is taken off the site, hazardous materials and waste water.
If there is a composter in a central location, a permit is required, he added.
Lucia Stout Huebner, who works with McConaughy, said farmers can hire consultants to help. She suggested going through Rutgers or Penn State.
In addition, Iowa State has a book, “Guide to Design of Red Meat Plants with Two Sizes of Models,” which is helpful.
Huebner did a lot of research on starting a slaughterhouse. She even brought expert Temple Grandin in to speak to the staff, as she does with all abattoirs as they open.
McConaughy said the USDA representatives were cooperative, but “they had never opened a plant, just closed plants.”
The most difficult part of starting up an on-farm slaughterhouse came in discussions with the municipality, McConaughy said.
The property wasn’t zoned for that use and there was a “NIMBY factor,” he said.
His first thought was a mobile slaughterhouse, but state DOT restrictions wouldn’t allow a trailer with a high enough roof to bleed out a full-grown steer.
A hydraulic pop-up was possible, but not feasible because it would take up too much room. It would not have been financially workable to create a mobile operation.
McConaughy said he had four reasons for wanting an on-farm operation.
The first was his belief that humane treatment for animals is also humane for people.
“Inhumane treatment leads to super-diseases,” he said, “with living creatures, the last days are important.” He also noted “stress changed taste and texture” of the meat.
Other reasons he wanted his own operation included the ability to serve local food produced by local employees with local community development and support.
In addition, it gave him the opportunity to ensure energy and economic sustainability.
McConaughy noted a similar operation at White Oaks Pastures in Georgia, a historic farmstead founded by Capt. James Edward Harris, a cavalry officer in the Confederate Army.
Harris started butchering cows, hogs and chickens to feed his family and sharecroppers.
Like other farmers, White Oaks went to industrial processing until 1995 when Will Harris III, the fifth-generation family member to run the farm, re-instituted multi-species rotational grazing and transitioned back to on-farm slaughter in 1995.
Only chickens and hogs are being slaughtered at Double Brook at present, but McConaughy hopes to add beef to his operation soon.