Evaluating Mobile Slaughter Access for Producers and Local Partners

Progress report for FS20-323

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $10,700.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Red Boot Goat Farm
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Sheila Austin
Red Boot Goat Farm
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Project Information

Abstract:

Our solution is to increase USDA slaughter availability through use of USDA Inspected Mobile Processing.  Our goal is to launch a USDA Inspected Mobile Processing Unit (MPU) that will be used by existing custom exempt processors for the benefit of their local producers.

Existing successful mobile processing units are structured with a mobile unit that travels to the farm or other locations and harvest the livestock. Typically, the offal is left at the farm or other location.  The carcass is transported back to a permanent further processing facility where it is chilled overnight, and then butchered into cuts of meat, packaged and frozen. Many examples of successful USDA Inspected mobile slaughter units are combined with permanent butchering, packaging, and storage facilities (i.e., Island Grown Farmers’ Cooperative, Bow, Washington).

Prior SARE studies focused on evaluating the feasibility of launching an MPU for use by individual producers or groups of producers. In these prior studies, the feasibility of a State Inspected Halal Custom Slaughter was evaluated (SARE FNC05-584). And, other prior work has evaluated the feasibility of State inspected mobile slaughter units (SARE FNC99-250).  However, meat sold under custom exempt regulations cannot be sold through retail trade, limiting the market for the meat.

Other studies have evaluated launching a USDA inspected facility in combination with a stationary butchering and processing facility (Curtis et. al. 2007). Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network (NMPAN) has many resources for groups interested in mobile processing.

This project plans to evaluate the feasibility of launching a USDA-inspected MPU for use by existing custom exempt facilities as well as direct to individual producers.  Our vision is for existing custom exempt facilities to be able to expand their client base by offering their customers processing services under USDA Inspection. Meat slaughter services will also be made available to individual livestock producers.

Potentially, the MPU would schedule inspected slaughter in coordination several custom exempt facilities over a month.  The MPU could either slaughter at the livestock owner’s farm or at the custom facility’s location.

This solution minimizes investment in plant and equipment, taking advantage of the existing network of established custom exempt processing facilities in Florida. Custom exempt facilities typically have butcher, packaging and storage services.

This solution differs from previously MPU projects funded by SARE.  Having mobile USDA compliant mobile slaughter unit(s) available to existing local custom slaughter facilities will benefit local communities in four ways: 1) local custom exempt facilities will be able to process for an expanded producer base, including niche meat companies wanting to sell USDA inspected meat; 2) livestock producers will have more options for slaughter and, potentially, access to on-farm slaughter which minimizes stress to the animal and transportation cost; 3) this project will increase slaughter access for sheep and goat producers; and, 4) consumers will benefit from increased access to local meat.

The goal of this current proposed project is to conduct a feasibility study to analysis and evaluate the demand for a MPU for small ruminants in Florida. Specifically, to determine if it will be technically feasible and profitable. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Develop Business Concept. Red Boot will first verify the overall business concept, and detail this in a brief 10-page PowerPoint presentation. The PowerPoint will describe the functionality and project concept using pictures from other MPU’s, diagrams, and text. The power-point will be used to verify the scope of the project for potential stakeholders, including local custom exempt operators, farmers, regulators, and potential end users.
  1. Review Concept. The PowerPoint concept will be reviewed with managers of three custom exempt plants and food safety faculty at University of Florida. There, questions and comments will be incorporated into the business concept.
  1. Development of Potential Stakeholder List. Red Boot will develop a list of potential end users of the mobile processing unit. Potential users include existing custom exempt facilities as well as independent processors. Red Boot will collect contact information, email addresses, business locations, and basic profile information.
  1. Estimating Demand for Local Slaughter. Red Boot will contract with the University of Florida to develop, execute, and analyze the digital survey information. Information from the survey will be critical to determine if there will be enough users for the proposed slaughter facility. The survey will show demand by location for slaughter services by species, potential volume, and willingness to pay for these slaughter services. A bid for $5,000 has been provided by William Messina, Economic Analysist, Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida.  Sheila Austin and project team will conduct interviews and administer surveys to stakeholders.  Angela McKenzie-Jakes, FAMU extension will be critical to identifying small ruminant producers
  1. Equipment. The cost of purchasing and equipping a mobile processing unit will be estimated. Red Boot’s team will collect cost information on purchasing a trailer unit and different pieces of processing equipment. Prior research by Curtis, et.al. details a comprehensive framework for developing the cost of the equipment and the mobile unit. Prior studies give an overview of staffing, infrastructure (water, electricity, sewage) needed to operate the unit.  Red Boot will assume that the base unit will be purchased from TryVan, who has supplied the majority of MPUs in operation. Sheila Austin and project team will collect the information.
  1. Operating Costs and Expected Revenue. Sheila Austin and project team will collect information on operating costs and the cost of the processing unit.
  1. Pro Forma Financials. Financials will be developed for the mobile processing business to verify that the business is financially feasible. If feasible, additional work will be needed on funding operational strategies. Mark Yarrick, a business development professional, will perform the analysis.
  1. Business Plan. If feasible, a brief business plan will be developed that describes the overall business, projected revenues and expenses, and resources needed to purchase and equip the mobile processing unit. Mark Yarrick will write this.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sheila Austin, Sheila Austin - Producer
  • Angela McKenzie-Jakes
  • Mark Yarick

Research

Materials and methods:

COVID

The public perception of COVID’s disruption to the availability of food, created a supply issue for meat at the local level.  Daily images of empty grocery shelves and counters shaped how we thought about who would benefit from the availability of a Mobile Slaughter Unit (MSU).  The realities of COVID also changed our approach to reaching stakeholders as in-person recruitment opportunities were shut down.

April 2020

Due to the inability to meet in person, we initiated the use of Zoom to meet to begin the process of identifying stakeholders for the survey.  We identified three potential stakeholder populations:  livestock producers, custom exempt slaughter facilities, and others (custom butchers and meat shops). 

Livestock producers

We determined that the survey must be designed to identify what livestock is currently produced, the number of animals produced for slaughter, current slaughter access, type of slaughter (USDA inspected vs custom exempt and producer preferences), challenges of access to slaughter, access to cut and wrap, cost issues, etc.

Custom Exempt Slaughter Facilities

We determined that existing custom exempt slaughter facilities may have an interest in access to a mobile slaughter unit.

Others

Access to meat at the local level prompted us to consider custom butchers/meat shops as stakeholders who may be interested in how a MSU could impact their businesses.  

As we started to consider each stakeholder population, we found that sourcing a current list of custom-exempt slaughter facilities was challenging.   A list of custom exempt facilities published by the University of Florida included those who were no longer in business or no longer accepted sheep/goats for slaughter. A call was made to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to assist in this effort.

We reached out to Dr. Chad Carr, UF Associate Professor and State Extension Meat Specialist, to discuss the SARE grant and solicit his help in crafting the survey and reaching potential stakeholders.  He informed us that IFAS would be hosting an online Beef Boot Camp series starting in July and that we were welcome to have time at the initial webinar to introduce the efforts of this grant. 

We also reached out to Dr. Cynthia Sanders, UF/IFAS Extension Director for Alachua County to introduce our grant and solicit her advice for identifying potential stakeholders.  She indicated that the Alachua County Fairground was in the process of being moved to a new location.  The County was in the process of developing the new location including adding water/sewage infrastructure to accommodate livestock shows.  She indicated a potential to check with county engineer involved in the fairgrounds retrofit to discuss ability to host a mobile slaughter unit.

May-June 2020

Met with team to finalize survey questions and have link to survey available for the July IFAS Beef Boot Camp Series. 

We obtained a 2020 list of County Fairs and started to call Fair Managers to discuss setting up a table in the livestock barns to talk to fair patrons and show parents about the grant and to distribute surveys.  All summer and fall 2020 county fairs were cancelled.

One youth livestock show unrelated to a county fair was scheduled to take place in September with the understanding that attendees would be required to follow mask and social distancing requirements.  I was given permission to have a table at this event.

July -August 2020

Survey instrument, flyers, materials for recruitment table printed in preparation for the September event.  The webpage housing the survey was not yet available, but it was decided to go ahead with paper surveys.

September 2020

Attended the youth livestock show over two days.  Recruitment efforts were difficult as no one in attendance (except for a teen volunteer) wore masks.   Efforts to engage family and friends of the youth showing livestock was almost impossible and most avoided me altogether. One gentleman indicated he could not talk to me because he could not understand me through my mask.

There were a couple of parents who did complete surveys but of those I was able to stop, most indicated that their involvement in livestock was limited to youth shows, not production.  This challenged our assumptions of making the bulk of our recruitment efforts from county fair.  It was evident that we would need to rethink efforts.

October 2020

We became aware of a recently awarded, UF IFAS/FAMU extension grant, SEEDIT Emerging Enterprises Project:  Sheep and Goat Production Assessment and Production Chain Development, that had very similar objectives to this SARE producer grant.  Our SARE survey could be easily edited to include additional questions that would provide data for both efforts.  As a bonus, this SARE grant would leverage the IFAS/FAMU extension existing resources to reach state-wide stakeholders.  This flyer was digitally disseminated by IFAS/FAMU extension.

November-December 2020

Hard copies of the flyers for the joint grant effort were printed and posted at feed stores in five Central Florida Counties.  As with recruitment efforts at the youth show in September, some personnel were clearly uncomfortable with my mask.  Most however did allow me to post fliers and a couple of feed store owners were very interested in the grant.

To date 150 individuals have started the online survey, 30 have completed it.

Research results and discussion:

We are still collecting data and have not conducted any interim analysis.

Participation Summary
30 Farmers participating in research
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.