September 12, 2008
September 12, 2008 - To have his hogs butchered legally, farmer Bruce Dunlop from Lopez Island, Wash., could haul his animals by ferry and truck 150 miles to the nearest federally sanctioned slaughterhouse. Instead, he just calls on his friendly roving neighborhood slaughterhouse.
Up rolls a diesel truck pulling an 8-by-12-foot trailer fitted with a sink, a 300-gallon water tank and a cooling locker with carcass hooks. A butcher slaughters the animals into slabs of meat that are then hung in the cooler and trundled to a packaging plant. Soon the meat is stocked in the freezers of shops on the island and across Washington and Oregon.
The Lopez Island's mobile slaughterhouse -- the first to be sanctioned by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) -- now shuttles from farm to farm three or four days a week, collecting fresh carcasses of cows, pigs and sheep.
Federal rules and consolidation of the nation's meatpacking industry have made it increasingly costly and cumbersome for small farmers to bring their animals to slaughter. The number of plants under federal inspection has dwindled to 808 nationwide, down from 1,750 three decades ago. On this island off the coast of Washington, a group of about 15 farmers decided that, rather than haul animals to a slaughterhouse in Sumner, Wash., they'd bring a slaughterhouse to their animals.
The farmers discussed building a brick-and-mortar slaughterhouse, but their neighbors stymied that. Then Dunlop heard about a Texas rancher who slaughtered antelope in a trailer (with state but not federal approval). He headed south to learn about it.
The agriculture department approved the Washington unit in 2002 after determining that there was sufficient need and that farmers could dispose of waste through composting.
The cooperative hired two butchers, and USDA assigned an inspector who would follow the slaughterhouse around. To pay for butchers and other expenses, the cooperative charges a fee for each animal killed: $105 for a cow, $53 for a pig and $37 for a sheep. Reprinted in part from the Wall Street Journal