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May 17, 2011

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Rebecca Thistlethwaite

Sue- Stagnos Meat Co. is in Modesto, just 54 miles away. They do a great job killing pigs- very efficient, affordable, and quality. I think they have added cut and wrap as well.

sue

ok, i'm stummped. I raise pigs in Angels Camp (east of Stockton CA) and I am looking for a usda killer and cut and wrap facility. after HOURS of looking on the internet, I am turning to you for help. Can you send me a list of both please? I am in zip code 95222 and 100 mile radius works

Jack

I understand you need to use a USDA inspected processing plant and your own label is good, but what about permits/licenses? Do you have to have a Food Establishment License? Food Storage Warehouse license? Mobile Meat Truck license? Does any of this sound familiar?

I've talked to the Georgia State Ag Department, and even they seem confused (or at least I'm getting bounced from department to department for answers).

I know each state is different, but I assume they tend to adopt similar legislator to enforce USDA guidelines.

Patricia

Like the blog, appreciate the share!

Scrapple

Thanks for the great posts. In terms of finding slaughter facilities I've found that a lot of extension agencies will have a list if you email them directly or Google for a pdf file. TN lists theirs here: http://cpa.utk.edu/pdffiles/cpa182.pdf for instance.

I've also found that emailing AWA directly and asking about AWA approved locations in a state is an easy way to find a few. This is another important consideration in our farm location decision-making process and we appreciate your insights.

Walter Jeffries

My qualm was your use of the phrase, "If they won’t give you a tour, they either have something to hide". There are perfectly valid reasons for not doing tours which have nothing to do with having something to hide. When you write that in your article you're promoting that something deceitful is going on when that is very likely not the case. This is the sort of thing that gets abused by PETA, HSUS and the like and can come back to bite us. We have a very important principle in our country called "Innocent until proven guilty". The phrase you're using turns it around and states they're "Guilty until proven innocent" by giving a tour. I've tried to explain a few of the perfectly valid reasons why someone may not want to give tours. I'll leave it at that.

Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

Walter- I am not talking about farm tours. I am not even sure why you are referring to that. I am talking about the butcher shop meeting with a potential client, one that hopefully they will have for many years and receive thousands of dollars in contracts from. I am also talking about a customer service philosophy. If the butcher does not have that mentality and they think that instead they are "doing you a favor", then it might not be the butcher to work with. Remember, you are their client, you are the one paying them, not vice versa. If they can't spend 20 minutes with you showing you around a bit, they may not care about your business and may not follow your cutting instructions. This may degrade the quality of your product, hurt your reputation, and make it hard to survive as a direct market meat producer.
If you have problems with farm tours, you don't have to offer them, or you could charge for them and make it an new income stream.

Walter Jeffries

I'm not saying "don't visit". I'm saying that if they won't give a "tour" it does not mean they "have something to hide." There's an important distinction. The cutting rooms, brine rooms, smoking areas, etc are all clean rooms. The butcher has a limited amount of time. They may bet a lot of tour requests. When I do give farm tours it generally takes one to two hours with answering questions. Multiply that times ten requests a week and we're talking 20 hours a week of my time. That is a lot of time. I give annual tours to NECI who is a big customer of ours but I no longer give tours to everyone who asks, most of whom just want to see things out of curiosity. Far better for them to visit my blog which has over 10,000 posts, pages and comments with photos of how we do things. It's the virtual tour.

I really like your Breaking the Meat Processing Bottleneck series. You have hit on a lot of the key issues. I look forward to reading the future parts. This series will educate a lot of people as to the intricacies involved in processing.

Keep up the good work and keep us posted on your travels.

Cheers,

-Walter
Sugar Mtn Farm
in Vermont

Rebecca T. of Honestmeat

Kim- thank you. Always appreciate that you take the time to read my blog.
Walter- I disagree with your point about not visiting the facility that you are going to be spending tens of thousands of dollars at processing your meat. All of the cut & wrap facilities that we ended up using gave us at least a rudimentary tour. As for biosecurity, we can wear hear nets, booties, and aprons. If you are going to be working with somebody, hopefully for the long term, it helps to go talk to them in person, see their meat counter (if they have one), and get a feel for the place. Again, if that shop does not want your tens of thousands of dollars worth of business because they can't take 20 minutes out of their day to give you a brief little tour and talk to you, then I suggest you find a facility that wants your business. For me, it is all about customer service and this is a good demonstration of that.
I also disagree with your point about fresh meat. I don't think taking one or two animals every single week to slaughter (see my first post) makes economic sense just so a farmer can market fresh cuts. I don't think there is enough added value in doing that to justify the high transportation costs. As for half and whole animals, of course customers get to choose fresh meat when they do that, but that is not what this article is about. I am talking about retail cuts of meat, not carcasses. One more point- walk-in freezers usually have a lot of empty space in them to maneuver around, yet you are paying to cool that space. Yes they can be efficient, but I think you have to be a fairly large volume producer to justify one. A farmer I knew was spending $500 a month to cool one. Between our cold storage rental and our chest freezers, we never spent more than $100 a month. Thank you for your comments. It looks like you read the article thoroughly and reflected on your particular farming situation, which is what I am hoping for.

Walter Jeffries

"If they won’t give you a tour, they either have something to hide or don’t want your business."

This is the old "Guilty until proven innocent" line and it is false. There are perfectly valid reasons for not giving tours such as:

1) Butchers don't have the time - Butchers are incredibly busy in some seasons, especially late summer, fall and early winter.

2) Visitors represent a biosecurity threat - How would you like to know that random strangers are traipsing through the meat cutting room while your pork or beef is being cut? Not good.

3) There may not be the space in a small facility for people to come in and observe.

4) Observers are a distraction for the workers. This slows down production which costs the butcher shop owner money and it may result in injuries to the workers if they aren't focusing on exactly what their doing with sharp knives and dangerous bandsaws.

5) Visitors are a liability risk for the plant owner and can increase their insurance. If a visitor slips and falls they risk getting sued. Not worth it.

6) You can cause the butcher to lose their license, shutting down their business, putting their employees out on the street without jobs and causing them all to lose their homes. All because you want a tour.

Just because the butcher says no tours does not mean their hiding anything. The rest of the article is good but don't promote this falsehood.

I get three to ten requests a week for tours of our farm. I no longer give field tours and I rarely give driveway tours even. It takes too much time away from my being able to run the farm, time away from my family and it is a big biosecurity risk. We have had people bring us disease twice that cost us $25,000 in one case and over three times that in the other case. We had animals die as a result of the diseases.

"Nitrates/Nitrites"

Definitely have customers taste test nitrate free meat before they have it done. Many people won't like bacon or hams without the nitrates/nitrites. Frankly, this issue is way overblown. Lots of scare stories that came out of the late 1970's. It is all very confusing. After studying the issue a lot I've come to the conclusion the nitrates/nitrites are more of a marketing issue than a health issue.

The reality is that vegetables like celery contain far more and people eat them all the time without thinking about it. Not only that but these 'chemicals' have been shown to prevent some cancer. We have such high demand for our bacon and hams with the nitrates/nitrites we don't bother making a 'chemical' free version.

On the other hand, we make an all natural nitrate/nitrate-free hot dot and in that case the 'chemical' free aspect is a big selling point and there is no loss of flavor. Because hot dogs already have a low reputation, making it nitrate/nitrite-free gives it an added edge. The decision varies with the product.

"Cut Sheet Post"

Good points on the cut sheet. You might want to see this post I just did about our cut sheet which shows a sample as well as a pork cut chart.

"How the butcher cuts"

Definitely test the butcher as you said. Get something they have in their case and try it. See what their cutting is like. Take one animal to them and see how it comes out. Do a few more. Build up a relationship. It takes time like all good relationships. It also takes communication and hard work.

We must have the vacuum packed transparent packaging for our product for it to sell in stores so that further limits the butchers. The result is we drive seven hours each week. As you said, not all butchers have the expensive piece of equipment for this packaging process. Additionally, of those who have it, not all do a good job. It is a skill.

"Labeling"

A very tricky subject full of rules, regulations and complexities. Done right it makes a difference in sales. We went the full FSIS/USDA raising claims route and it was well worth it. As you say, it took months. Now that I'm experienced, it takes three weeks or a month to get a new label done. See my adventures in labeling here.

For printing labels we did our first batch with a commercial label printing company. I was very disappointed with the resulting labels. I researched various options for printing the labels myself and settled on the Primera LX400 label printer. I've used the printer we have to print many tens of thousands of labels and am very happy with it. I wish I had it sooner. It does full-color, glossy, high-resolution, virtually waterproof and freezer proof labels that actually stick and stay on the packages. My cost for ink and labels is about 6¢/label. The printer was about $1,400 and is still running strong after years of printing.

"Usually you can get away with generic quality claims, such as 'best-tasting pork'”

GAK! Please don't make ridiculous claims like "Best" anything. Pet peeve. Best is completely unsupportable unless you have won an award from some industry group in which case say so. e.g., "Chosen Best of Show in 2011 by Big-E" To claim you are the best in the country, the world, the universe without documenting it is an instant turn off for consumers. No need to make exaggerated claims. Just say it like it is. "All naturally raised on pasture" or what ever your stick is.

"Personally, I don’t think your customers will care enough to pay for the extra time and logistics of dealing in fresh meat."

I couldn't disagree with you more. Customers pay a premium for fresh. Fresh pastured pork year round is our niche and we get paid a premium by customers to deliver it. Interestingly, it is primarily individual consumers at stores who are looking for fresh so it is the stores that drive the fresh demand. Restaurants are about evenly split on fresh vs frozen. Families buying a whole pig as cuts generally want it frozen and boxed. People buying roaster pigs generally want fresh too.

"Freeze it fast"

Definitely key. Most home freezers won't do a good job of this. To properly do it you need a blast freezer which is something some meat processing facilities have. Spreading the meat out helps. Some butchers have the ability to freeze and others don't. If they do offer freezing make sure they have good equipment and do it right. Beware that some butchers have completely inadequate freezers and you can end up getting rotten meat from them as a result. This happened to us with one of the butchers.

"Walk in freezer energy"

Actually, a walk in freezer or cooler can be very energy efficient. Much more so than many chest freezers. You can even build your own.

As to chest freezers, the newer ones are not necessarily better than the older ones. We have a ~50 year old chest freezer that uses half the electricity of the modern one we got a few years ago. Both are exactly the same size and used exactly the same way. The new one is supposed to be "energy efficient" but it is not compared with the old one. The older one has a better compressor that has been running for about half a century. Modern freezers have cheap compressors that burn out faster.

If you get an old one, remove the insulation and blow in new foam insulation as well as replacing the seal like you suggested. Add a latch - I use a bungie cord. This seals the top tighter. Then keep the freezer full. When adding new stuff, distribute it.

What ever you do, don't go with an upright freezer.

"Myth that eating good food is expensive"

There's High-on-the-hog vs Low-on-the-hog. There is only so much tenderloin and sirloin on a pig but the whole thing must be eaten to justify slaughtering another. This produces high priced $18 tenderloin cuts for the wealthy and low priced ground, ribs and soup bones for the less affluent. I appreciate the wealthy buyers who are willing to spend more. This brings the rest of the pig to us all. Be adventurous, eat low-on-the-hog like the farmer's family!

Kim Williams

Lots of useful info presented in a straightforward, easy to understand way.
Thank you!

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