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Going Mobile: Co-ops operate traveling slaughter units to help grow local foods movement

Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative was founded because small livestock producers' livelihoods were threatened by having to travel long distances to slaughterhouses. The Washington based slaughter unit operates at three venues on a weekly or semi-weekly schedule.

[Note: the following is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the November/December issue of Rural Cooperatives, a magazine published by USDA Rural Development]

Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative has been operating for just over a year, with a roll of 60 voting members in nine contiguous counties, and another 30 associate members.

Perry Schermerhorn, president of the co-op, says the idea for the cooperative occurred to Cheryl Ouellete, a local hog farmer looking for ways to add value to her product.  Selling butchered meat instead of live hogs seemed the natural solution.  But the local slaughterhouse had closed, meaning that the nearest processing facility was hundreds of miles away in Oregon.

With the big population centers of Seattle and Tacoma nearby, a market for locally grown meats was assured – if the meat carried USDA inspection stamps.  Island Grown’s approach seemed like the answer.

The first exploratory meeting, in February 2008, drew 80 local producers, and with the help of the Washing State Small Business Assistance Center at Green River Community College, a business plan was put together and the idea pitched to the Pierce Conservation District board of directors, which approved $200,000 in funds to build the trailer in June 2008.

The cooperative itself was set up that November, and in June 2009 the mobile processing unit was delivered.  Puget Sound’s unit is based on the Island Grown design, but larger.  Built on a 45-foot semi-trailer, it has bigger storage facilities and the ability to process more animals at a time.

The Puget Sound co-op works a little differently than the Island Grown co-op.  Instead of making appointments to slaughter at each customer’s farm, the slaughter unit operates at three venues on a weekly, or semi-weekly, schedule.  Producers transport their animals to the most convenient location.  Members can purchase a special class of stock to have priority in scheduling.  Two of the locations are on members’ property; the third is provided at no cost by a local landowner.

The cooperative doesn’t offer cutting and wrapping services.  Those are provided by private packing facilities in nearby Rochester and Bremerton.

Schermerhorn says the cooperative has the capacity for about 140 new members; the slaughter unit currently operates at about 25 percent of capacity.  Members each market their own products.  Some retail their products directly at farmers’ markets and similar venues.  This sales strategy, Schermerhorn says, offers the highest margins: 50 to 100 percent.

Other producers have contracts to provide high-quality meats to restaurants, local food stores, and even food co-ops.  They typically garner markups of 10 to 30 percent.  Overall, Schermerhorn says, “We get about a 50-percent net gain over marketing live cattle.”  Read more

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