Researching the Cost-effectiveness of Building a State-licensed, Mobile Poultry Processing Facility as a Regional Farmers' Group

Final Report for FNC99-250

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $14,967.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Twelve farm families in northwest lower Michigan proposed to build a mobile poultry processing trailer to be used for on farm processing of pasture raised chickens and turkeys. This facility was designed with the guidance of the Michigan Department of Agriculture in order to create a licensed prototype for duplication in Michigan. Currently there are no licensed poultry processing facilities in the state. The nearest option for processing birds for resale is in Indiana or Ohio. There are also no laws governing a mobile facility. It this facility can be licensed by the state, Michigan farmers will have a new option for on farm income: pasture poultry production for direct sale.

The goals of this project were:
1) Design and build a mobile poultry processing facility, licensed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture, under the guidance of a regional food inspector.
2) Research the cost effectiveness of duplicating this prototype
3) Utilize the facility to educate farmers and future farmers, including college interns and youth at risk farming apprentices.

We began by meeting as a group of twelve current and potential pastured poultry producers, discussing the roadblock of processing birds for legal sale. We determined that it was not reasonable for every farmer to build a processing facility at their farm, and that a much more practical way to approach processing would be to have a portable unit that could be state licensed and serve all the small farms in our area.

We met during the late fall/early winter to discuss organizational options and decided to have a local, non-profit, sustainable agriculture education center own the facility. The owner, Wagbo Peace Center, is located in northwest lower Michigan on 212 acres, and teaches sustainable agriculture and nonviolence. The farm is a model of small scale, diversified, sustainable farming and includes: three acre organic produce garden with 30 share CSA, permaculture greenhouse (SARE funded), 100 laying hens, pastured poultry (1000), 2200 tap maple syrup operation, WoodMizer band saw mill, small orchard, apiary, pigs in portable pens, Jersey milk cows, Belgian draft horses for field & forest work, rotational grazing, composting, college internships and youth at risk apprenticeships. The leader of this project, Rick Meisterheim, manages the farm at Wagbo Peace Center. Rick has been at the farm since 1993, when he began building this education program. Prior to that he had been a forester and environmental educator. He grew up farming in southern Michigan.

Planning and organizational meetings were held in late fall/early winter to establish the framework for the group.

Membership: it was decided that Wagbo Peace Center would own the trailer and each farmer would hold a membership in the trailer. Farmers would pay a membership fee of $25 per commercial producer and $10 per home use producer, as well as a per bird fee of .25 for use of the trailer. In this way, producers with more birds would pay more maintenance fees. All feeds would go into a trailer maintenance fund. In addition, each participating farm would have their water tested prior to use of the trailer.

Trailer design and layout: farmers met on three occasions to design the trailer. A physical layout was made on the floor of a large room. Equipment for the trailer (scalder and plucker) was chosen and the company provided specs for the design process. Two-dimensional cardboard cutouts of each machine were made to determine the physical space available for workers. Once all agreed upon a design, the working “blueprint” was drawn up.

Trailer use schedule: in order for the trailer to be available to each farmer when needed, chick orders were scheduled sequentially. Each farmers butcher date then landed approximately one week apart. This allowed time to transport the trailer between farms. Commercial producers were given priority for processing dates over home use producers.

Construction planning: the lead producer coordinated workdays over the winter. He made all the contacts necessary for each workday, planned and purchased needed materials, and coordinated use of tools with other farmers. This coordination role was key to the success of this project. it required extensive planning, foresight and organization. A second producer, whose farm was centrally located, offered use of one of his equipment barns to house the trailer during the building process. He was reimbursed $50/month for electricity and lease of space for the seven months that the trailer was in his barn.

Building the trailer: work bees were scheduled weekly, at least one full day each week. All the producers were contacted prior to the scheduled day. Attendance varied from 2-3 workers up to 6-7 workers on each workday.

The work sequence went as follows:
1) 5 hours x 4 people – laid ¾” tongue and groove plywood on floor, fastened down with 1 ½” drywall screws. Sealed with silicone along rear edge. Boxed in upper front inside with plywood.
2) 5 hours x 4 people – sealed edges with bondo along walls, floor, seams, screws, to prep for flooring. Boxed in upper rear inside with plywood. Installed two sheets of fiberglass paneling on the ceiling.
3) 5 hours x 3 people – fit and fastened fiberglass paneling on walls. Fiberglass bent around radius of ceiling well. Had difficulty getting edge of sheets into grove in seam trim at bends.
4) 3 hours x 2 people, 5 hours x 1 person – fit and fastened fiberglass to box in area in front and back header over door. Cut out window holes in fiberglass with cut out router, refastened trim around windows. Picked up trim, cut out door trim.
5) 10 hours x 1 person – installed 1’ square commercial floor tile.
6) 3 hours x 1 person – seal and wax floor
7) 6 hours x 1 person, 5 hours x 2 people, 4 hours x 1 person, 3 hours x 1 person – fastened trim in eviscerating room, built interior wall and sheathed with fiberboard, installed window, siliconed around trim in eviscerating room, planned equipment alteration.
8) 3 people x 2 hours – planning meeting with electrician, decided machine alterations and materials
9) 2.5 hours x 2 people, 2 hours x 1 person, 2 hours prep time x 1 person – cut off legs and welded plates on machines: removed 8 7/8” from plucker leg over wheel well, removed 5 7/8” from scalder leg over wheel well, added 3” to all other legs, due to burners hanging down 2” plus 1’ clearance; used 4” plates welded on legs, 6” on cut off leg on scalder, caulked, applied cove molding.
10) 2 hours x 2 people – painted back doors, finished trim on windows, painted wheel wells
11) 2 hours x 1 person – painted second coat on doors and window wells
12) 11 hours x 2 people – two trips to Used Restaurant Supply Warehouse for stainless steel drain boards and sinks.
13) 8 hours x 2 people, 7 hours x 1 person, 6 hours x 1 person, 4 hours x 3 people – started electrical, fitted all stainless steel sinks and drain boards; finished out stainless steel around plucker door; used metal cutting blade in skill saw for shaping stainless steel, disc grinder to finish.
14) 8 hours x 2 people, 7 hours x 1 person, 6 hours x 2 people, 4 hours x 1 person – laid out plumbing and finished drain system; started laying out water supply line; worked on electric in eviscerating room, mounted leg on hand sink, fastened angel alum to wall/drain board, mounted water heater.
15) 4 hours x 3 people – finished electric in eviscerating room, finished laying out supply line plumbing
16) 7 hours x 2 people, 4 hours x 3 people, 1 hour x 2 people – met with inspector, approved what was done, talked about licensing on training day, wanted to add check valves on water supply. Cut and drilled scalder vent and drains, ran gas line, laid out feather exhaust shoot, trimmed and painted around plucker door shroud, cleaned eviscerating room, waxed eviscerating room floor, picked up stainless steel from scrap yard.
17) 5 hours x 2 people – plumbed gas line to scalder, cut and fabricated feather chute for plucker
18) 4 hours x 1 person – fabricated stainless steel box for front of trailer, cut out top piece of feather chute
19) 3 hours x 4 people, 2 hours x 1 person – finished feather chute, mounted box on front with gas line inside, drilled and bolted scalder and plucker to trailer, painted rear doors.
20) 1 hour x 2 people – cut and planed wood for screen wall
21) 7 hours x 1 person – finished electrical.
22) 6 hours x 2 people – painted wood and door for screen wall, built door for chicken chute into plucker room, attempted to plumb drains in scalder (threads were defective – factory)
23) 7 hours x 2 people – shortened door, repainted wood parts and door, cut and fit wood parts, installed/caulked/repainted frame on back wall, pulled scalder out to be repaired.
24) 5 hours x 3 people – repaired scalder and re-installed, finished screen wall, attached knife magnets, paper towel holder, bib valves
25) 3 hours x 2 people – hooks for awning, final strips on screen wall, finished drain, moved trailer to Wagbo
26) On-going: 8 hours x 1 person – magnets on screen door, hooks for squeegee/mop/lighter, tube to store awning poles attached to front of trailer, build 220 electric extension cord, fabricate and add heat deflectors to scalder, cut plucker exhaust larger, installed fans in roof vents, rubber straps on kill cones.

Total Labor Hours: 360

First Run/Training Day:
A Saturday in late June was scheduled to be the first run of the trailer. Twenty-five chickens were raised just for this purpose. The MDA inspector came, as did all the farmer members. The trailer was set up and the final bugs worked out. Everyone took a turn operating each piece of machinery and doing each station in the process. The MDA inspector took photos and wrote the license that day. A DEQ permit for wastewater disposal was obtained.

First Year Results:
The trailer traveled to seven farms between June and September (only 7 of the 12 farms raised birds this year). Each farmer “apprenticed” with another farmer to get more experience in using the trailer. A total of 1500 birds were processed. The group kept a running journal of their experiences, number of birds, gallons of water used, what worked, what didn’t, ideas for changes and improvements. No major changes were suggested; everyone thought it was well planned and highly efficient. Minor changes included better floor drainage and a bag system everyone could agree on to cut the cost and raise the efficiency of bagging.

The main person involved with this project, other than the group of 12 farmers, was the MDA inspector. He provided guidance throughout the process and went out on a limb to license the unit when there were no laws governing a mobile facility.

- The trailer was constructed within the timeline of the project.
- The participating farmers successfully utilized the facility, processing 1500 birds.
- The MDA inspector was satisfied with the outcome of the project and approved the license without hesitation.
- Financial records indicate that the project came in slightly over budget, but within reasonable expectations. The trailer owner, Wagbo Peace Center, covered the additional cost of the trailer.
- Donations toward the project from the participating farmers (including cash, tool use, labor, mileage) totaled $10,850. Wagbo Peace Center, owner of the trailer, contributed $3,075 in staff time, $4,320 toward the trailer, and $900 in outreach.

The group of farmers considered this project a huge success. The design of the trailer proved to be efficient and functional. The financial indication is that it would be feasible for a group of 10-12 farmers to invest $19-20,000 in such a facility as an alternative to hauling chickens to Indiana for processing. Financially, one such trip and fees would equal the investment required to build a mobile unit, (1000 birds @ $2/bird = $2000; plus the travel expenses, time and mortality rate from transport).

Receipt of the MDA license was the key to the success of this project. Without the ability to legally sell the birds direct to the consumer, there would be limited need for such a facility.

Members of the group have been asked to present at conferences regarding the processing trailer. A seminar will be presented at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference in February 2001. The trailer will be on site for attendees to view and tour. A display of pictures and the information packet will be set up at the Acres USA conference in December 2000.

A field day was held at Wagbo Peace Center during with chickens were processed in the trailer for visitors to observe. Attendance was disappointing, considering the wide distribution of announcements. Only two people came, from the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and the Sault Ste. Marie area Economic Development Alliance. They were very interested in duplicating the project.

This report will be submitted to every extension office in Michigan as a resource for farmers. It is intended that the extension agents will disseminate this information to any interested person, in order that the model can be duplicated.

This report will be made available to ATTRA for their files.

The Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association will publish an article and photo in its newsletter in the Michigan Farm and Country Journal, which is distributed to 55,000 households in Michigan.

Farmers with sincere interest in duplicating the facility will be welcomed to visit Wagbo Peace Center to tour the trailer and talk to Rick Meisterheim about the project.

The next step will be discussion with the USDA to determine what additional requirements they would have for such a facility to become USDA approved.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.