This three-year project provided outreach and education for small-scale poultry producers in Massachusetts, with the goal of increasing profits and market access for small poultry enterprises by helping producers obtain state licensure to process their own poultry. As a direct result of the training events, educational materials, and technical assistance provided by this project, at least 23 poultry producers have obtained or are in the process of obtaining Massachusetts Department of Health (MDPH) licensure for on-farm poultry processing. Nine producers used a licensed Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) to process a total of over 14,000 chickens and turkeys, generating total revenues of over $300,000. Annual revenues generated through licensed use of the MPPU more than doubled by the conclusion of the project, from $51,500 in 2008 to $106,110 in 2011. Producers saved over $450 to $2,000 per year by obtaining licensure to use an MPPU instead of accessing the nearest USDA-inspected processing plant. Producers also gained access to new markets, including four farms which began selling poultry to six restaurants across Massachusetts. A state-sanctioned training curriculum was created, including classroom and hands-on trainings held each year and attended by over 190 current and prospective poultry producers. Comprehensive educational guides were created, made available online, and accessed by farmer-trainees in Massachusetts and other readers across the country, including “Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors,” “Farm and Food Safety Management Guide,” and “Building an On-farm Poultry Processing Facility.” Additional resources created include poultry enterprise calculators and a series of training videos.
Demand for local, sustainably produced poultry is increasing. Access to affordable, legally-sanctioned poultry processing is enabling new and existing producers to profitably diversify their farm enterprises and provide healthful, safe products to consumers. Producers are poised to meet this demand but need training to navigate the regulatory and food safety requirements to use mobile or stationary facilities for on-farm slaughter and processing. State and local permitting requires stringent producer-processor training in safe food handling, sanitation operating procedures; wastewater and solid waste management processing; humane slaughter; flock health and disease management; equipment operations, maintenance, and repair; and marketing. Prior to this SARE-funded project, no such training was available in Massachusetts, and few comprehensive resources were available regionally or nationally for prospective poultry producer-processors. Additionally, at the start of this project, Massachusetts had yet to formally allow the use of MPPUs or small producer-owned stationary facilities outside of a limited “pilot status.” State agencies lacked the resources or political will to develop rules that would provide a framework for the licensure of mobile and stationary on-farm facilities and upgrade the regulation of on-farm poultry processing to “routine status.”
Of the 125 small-scale poultry producers who initially enroll in this project, 75 will complete regulatory and practical skills training and implement new production, processing, and food safety practices on their farms; at least 45 will increase market access, profits, and complete the legal requirements to process poultry using a licensed Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) within two years. Over 190 producers have attended our trainings related to poultry processing regulatory, logistical, and food safety requirements, with the majority implementing new production, processing and/or food safety practices on their farms as a result. Due to “pilot project” limitations imposed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) until May 2011 and the steep fee MDPH charges for obtaining a state slaughter license, only 9 farmers were able to secure a state slaughter license for on-farm poultry processing before 2011. However, in 2012 an additional 14 have completed the mandated training (held by New Entry and officially approved by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources as the only state-endorsed poultry processing training event), passed the MDAR-mandated online test (created in consultation with New Entry), and have obtained or are in the process of obtaining new MDPH poultry slaughter licenses. By the spring of 2013 an expected 25 to 30 poultry farmers will have completed the legal requirements to process poultry using a licensed Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) or a licensed on-farm facility.
Working closely with state regulators, we created a training curriculum to prepare farmers and other individuals for on-farm poultry processing under Massachusetts Department of Public Health licensure. In 2012, these trainings were designated as the first state-authorized poultry processing training program, so that all individuals attempting to obtain an MDPH poultry slaughter license were required to attend New Entry’s hands-on poultry processing and food safety training. The complete training protocol includes: • Processing Your Poultry: Logistics, Regulations, and Resources. A classroom-based 4-hour workshop focusing on federal and state regulations and logistical considerations for processing poultry using a mobile poultry processing unit or a licensed on-farm facility. • Hands-on Training for Licensed On-farm Poultry Processing. A 4-hour hands-on field training focusing on the steps of processing, practical skills, and food and worker safety. Required for individuals obtaining an MDPH slaughter license. • An Online Certification Test. Administered by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the online exam tests knowledge of topics covered in the classroom and hands-on training and in the educational guides. Upon finishing the test, participants receive a certificate of completion of the training program. The classroom and hands-on trainings have been offered each year since 2009, eight trainings in all, with over 190 total participants. In addition to the in-person training events, prospective licensees have access to “self-certification” resources, a series of instructional guides for producer-processors. These guides, freely available online in PDF form, supplement the hands-on training and can serve as an alternative to the classroom session. The guides include: • Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors • Farm and Food Safety Management Guide • Building an On-farm Poultry Processing Facility Poultry enterprise calculators were created and made freely available online in order to help producers create business plans and make informed decisions about poultry production and processing options: • “Poultry Profit Calculator” • “Online Poultry Processing Calculator” All of the above resources are available for view and download at http://nesfp.nutrition.tufts.edu/training/poultryresources.html. Additionally, three short training videos were produced, distributed, and included in the “self-certification” DVD: • “Preparation and Sanitation” • “Humane Slaughter” • “Evisceration, Chilling and Packing”
The project began with the recruitment of Massachusetts poultry producers to join the MA poultry listserv and the distribution of an informational survey. Listserv membership surpassed the target of 125 in 2010; it included over 250 members before being combined with a similar listserv early in 2011. The informational survey was developed and distributed in 2010, with 82 responses returned. The survey results confirmed the importance of processing availability for small-scale poultry producers in the area, with 83% of potential/prospective poultry farmers listing “Ability to process” as an entry barrier. Nearly half of producers expressed willingness to serve as part of an MPPU leadership team, and 69% said they were willing to pay an annual membership fee. Additionally, 55% said they would increase production if they had access to an MPPU. A training curriculum was developed in 2009, with a classroom-based regulations workshop held in the winter and a hands-on practical skills workshop in the spring. The two primary guidance documents for producers, Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors and Farm and Food Safety Management Guide, were created, distributed to all workshop participants, and made freely available online. The Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors describes step-by-step how to apply for licensure to process poultry using a Massachusetts-inspected MPPU, which at that time was regulated under “pilot status” by MDPH. The Farm and Food Safety Management Guide included Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Standard Sanitation Operation Procedures (SSOPs) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) for farmers using a mobile poultry processing unit. Both guides reflected the project’s focus on MPPUs as the primary option for on-farm processing; while stationary on-farm facilities were considered another option, it was generally believed that MPPUs would serve as a lower-risk, lower-cost stepping stone for producers who wished to scale up to a level at which it would make sense to invest in the equipment and infrastructure necessary for a licensed stationary facility. As interest in using the MPPU grew and the trainings drew strong participation in 2009 and 2010, our third milestone was partially reached: At least 50 producers did receive individual technical assistance, and between workshop participants and web visits, even more accessed the Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors; however, for various reasons, only a handful attempted to apply for an MDPH state slaughter license. One reason was MDPH’s decision to extend “pilot status” of the MPPU in 2010, which allowed it to cap the number of licensed MPPU users at eight. Additionally, producers who opted against applying for licensure cited the $225 license application fee and the “regulatory headache” involved in the application process, including obtaining local Board of Health approval, arranging for testing of well water, developing MDEP-approved compost sites, and scheduling flock health certification. Although initial producer interest was very strong, after learning all of the requirements of state licensure, the majority of producers ultimately decided that they did not raise enough birds or their start-up costs outweighed the cost and effort of pursuing licensure. Nevertheless, attendance at trainings remained strong, as150 producers and other individuals participated in the trainings between 2009 and 2011. Although the original plan called for three separate regional iterations of the trainings, participants proved willing to travel to a single central location, given that there were no comparable training events around. The hands-on practical skills training also proved to be a rather involved undertaking, and holding it in three different locations every year would have proved impractical. The target figure of 45 producers to participate in the training events was appropriate: Each year the trainings have drawn between 40 to 50 participants. Based on evaluation forms and follow-up correspondence, at least half of participants have used the information from the workshops, guides, and individual technical assistance to adopt new production, processing, or food safety practices in their operations. The project’s fifth milestone called for three regional producer groups to develop models for shared investment and management of an MPPU in their region. Several producer groups were convened, and collaboration with producers was educational for all involved. Organization of producers has occurred among those using the MPPUs, and a statewide alliance of growers and advocates emerged with the goal of expanding processing options in Massachusetts. At the level of developing models for shared management of MPPUs, however, producers have generally shown insufficient interest to form self-sustaining regional groups. This may happen in the future, as past attempts may have been undermined by the uncertainty of MPPUs’ regulatory “pilot status,” which has only been lifted since mid-2011. Another intervening trend may be the rise of licensed stationary on-farm processing facilities, which for the first time accounted for the majority of new MDPH slaughter license applicants in 2012. With regulations in place to allow producers to obtain licensure for their own facilities (thanks in large part to the efforts and materials produced by this project), many poultry farmers currently appear to prefer this option to shared use of an MPPU. Although most Massachusetts producers have not shown great interest in collective ownership or management of an MPPU, mobile units have grown in both use and number. In 2008, the one licensed MPPU in mainland Massachusetts generated over $51,500 in direct poultry sales, serving 3 farms. Between 2009 and 2011, the mainland Massachusetts MPPUs generated over $300,000 in direct sales of over 14,000 processed chickens and turkeys, serving 9 farm enterprises and another 15 growers who processed small batches for home consumption. With funding from a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant and private donors, New Entry and NESFI coordinated the construction of a second Massachusetts MPPU. In 2011 and 2012, the new unit, an enclosed model (rather than open-air, like the original), operated in eastern Massachusetts while the original MPPU operated in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, bringing the MPPU project closer to the original goal of regionalized shared infrastructure. Additionally, a third MPPU built by a poultry farmer in the Berkshires with training and technical assistance from this project, will be available next year for rental by farmers in that area. In order to meet producers’ needs—and accommodate the considerable commitment of managing an MPPU—new models of use have been explored, including contracting a dedicated MPPU manager to deliver the unit and assist with processing, and a concept known as “neutral site” processing, which allows producers to bring small batches of birds to a dedicated processing site (where no other poultry is raised per MDAR biosecurity requirements) rather than paying to transport the unit to their individual farm. The project’s impact has also extended beyond Massachusetts. In fact, we might very soon claim to have reached the project’s sixth milestone, in which “At least one producer group … identifies resources to construct and license a shared MPPU to serve their geographic area.” The project provided substantial training, technical assistance, and regulatory support for the MPPU set to go online in the Berkshires of Massachusetts in 2013. Although the unit itself is the product of a single producer rather than a cooperative group, this does not mean it will have any less impact. We have provided even more training and technical assistance to an effort to build an MPPU in Connecticut, led by the Connecticut Poultry Producers Association. The group recently received enough funding to construct the unit, and we have agreed to share our own experiences and provide further technical assistance as they plan and construct Connecticut’s first MPPU. Additionally, we have provided technical assistance to more than 20 organizations and other projects across the country interested in building their own MPPUs. Our latest guide, Building an On-farm Poultry Processing Facility, provides extensive but accessible advice for anyone interested in building a mobile or stationary on-farm poultry processing facility, and is easily the most comprehensive resource available on the subject. The landscape of small-scale poultry processing has changed a great deal since 2009, and this project has been the catalyst for many of those changes—including many we would not have predicted three years ago. We envisioned at least 3 MPPUs operating regionally in Massachusetts, constructed, owned and managed by groups of producers; next year there will be 3 MPPUs operating regionally in the state, but they are owned and managed by a single organization or individual rather than a group of producers. We envisioned at least 30 producers increasing profits and market access through MPPU-based poultry operations; 30 or more producers will likely see increased profits and market access through improved access to poultry processing in 2013, but more than half may be using their own licensed on-farm facility rather than an MPPU. And with all of the buzz generated by this project’s push for expanded small-scale poultry processing access, new ideas and solutions have come forward, including a plant in Rhode Island in the process of becoming the first USDA-licensed poultry processing facility to serve Rhode Island, eastern and central Connecticut, and eastern Massachusetts. Even if the results look different than we anticipated, they all contribute to the goal of expanding access to legal, affordable processing options for small-scale poultry producers—and this project has had a very important hand in all of it. The formerly MPPU-centered poultry processing trainings have been adjusted to meet the needs of those operating stationary on-farm facilities; all of the 2012 state slaughter license applicants came through our training programs, and most have also received at least one hour (often quite a bit more) of our technical assistance; and, perhaps most crucially of all, this project’s training and education materials formed the basis for the new MDPH rules which allowed on-farm processing to finally enter “routine status” and for the first time provided a framework for the licensure of both mobile and stationary on-farm processing facilities.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
The results of this project were verified both qualitatively and quantitatively primarily through regular correspondence with producers. Baseline data was gathered in a 2010 survey of 82 small poultry producers and through interviews with individual producers most likely to utilize on-farm processing as part of a pasture-raised poultry enterprise. (See attachment for summary of survey results.) For each year, producers using an MPPU were required to report number of batches, birds processed each batch, markets accessed, and estimated total income. The names of producers who applied for and received MDPH slaughter licenses each year was provided by MDPH, and the names of producers who successfully completed the online testing requirement in 2012 were provided by MDAR. Follow-up communication with these producers confirmed their license application status and details about their operation and future plans—valuable information which highlighted trends, such as an increased interest in stationary on-farm facilities, which may not otherwise have been identified. Such direct communication proved the most useful (if also the most time-consuming) method of verification. As previously mentioned, this project has played a leading role in creating a substantially different landscape of poultry processing options in and around Massachusetts compared to three years prior, including some unexpected outcomes. One of the most significant recent advances is the newfound ability of Massachusetts poultry farmers to obtain MDPH slaughter licenses to legally process poultry using their own stationary on-farm facilities. Many of these facilities have existed on small farms in the region for years, previously used either to process small batches of poultry for home consumption or to process larger batches for sale “under the table”—which is to say, illegally. With the regulatory path now cleared for producers using either mobile or stationary on-farm facilities to gain MDPH licensure, slaughter license applications increased sharply in 2012, driven by applications for approval of stationary on-farm facilities. Feedback from producers strongly suggests a continuation of this trend, especially for farmers building new on-farm poultry processing facilities or upgrading unlicensed facilities in order to operate under MDPH licensure. Data gathered from this project has also led to exploration of new MPPU management models to improve utility for producers and limit costs of unit management. Two trends appear to be emerging from this work: a management model that enlists a single unit manager who makes the MPPU available as a service, operating as an independent business; and the use of “neutral site” processing, which allows farmers to bring their birds to an MPPU parked at a central location (a “neutral site,” meaning that no poultry is raised on the property that year) and process their poultry there, operating under a USDA Producer-Processor exemption. This is especially useful as a way to accommodate smaller-scale users (100 or fewer birds per batch) for whom it would not make economic sense to rent and transport an MPPU or build an on-farm facility. An end-of-season pilot “community processing day” was held in November 2011 to trial this option for producers and it attracted 13 farm businesses from Connecticut and Massachusetts, processing over 66 chickens and 59 turkeys. At least one neutral site processing day will take place in the fall of 2012 in Dracut, Massachusetts, using the Eastern Massachusetts MPPU. A similar model has been proposed in Connecticut, using permanent or semi-permanent docking stations at the neutral site.
The economic impact of the two licensed Massachusetts MPPUs for farmers has been substantial and positive, a direct result of the outreach, training and education provided by this project. In 2008, three producers used the Massachusetts MPPU to process approximately 2,400 chickens, creating $51,500 in farm income from direct poultry sales. In 2011, five farms used the two MPPUs to process 4,471 birds, generating $106,110 in revenue from poultry sales, an increase of $54,610 in annual farm revenue. Average revenue per bird also increased by $3 (from $21 per bird in 2008 to $24 in 2011), which may partly be the function of marketing assistance provided by this project and by increased demand for hand-processed, local and pasture-raised poultry driven by regional media coverage of the MPPUs. At the hands-on practical skills trainings, producers also learned how to increase per-bird revenue by packaging and selling giblets (livers, hearts and gizzards) and locating markets for poultry heads and feet, all of which may otherwise have been discarded. In addition to the new revenue already generated, the path has been cleared for continued revenue growth as farmers are able to expand market access. Formal regulatory recognition of on-farm processing in Massachusetts, along with growing customer awareness of and enthusiasm for local, pasture-raised, humanely processed poultry, has helped to open new markets for small-scale poultry farmers in the state. Before the MPPU project, most small poultry meat enterprises in Massachusetts relied on selling “under the table” directly to a trusted group of individual consumers. By processing under MDPH licensure, producers can sell their birds legally, not only to individuals—through farmers markets, farmstands, CSAs, or pre-orders—but also to restaurants. Before 2010, no producers sold birds processed on-farm to restaurants; in 2010 and 2011, four producers used the MPPU to process and sell chickens to at least six restaurants across the state. Using the Poultry Profit Calculator, producers estimated costs and made educated decisions in selecting a processing option, determining the number of birds to raise and process each year, and setting a sale price to ensure profits. The calculator also helped producers track production expenses and find ways to improve net income by lowering costs. Since 2010, an additional legal poultry processing option has existed in the region in the form of Westminster Meats, a USDA-inspected plant in southern Vermont; however, every producer who used the MPPU in 2010 and 2011 saved at least $1 to $2 per bird in processing fees over the USDA plant price —a total savings of $150 to $800 per batch and $450 to $2,000 per year. Additionally, on-farm processing allows farmers to package and sell all giblets, heads and feet, an option not available at the USDA plant at that time. Using the Online Poultry Processing Calculator to estimate costs, producers using the MPPU in 2011 saved nearly $5,000 in processing costs alone. With a third MPPU coming online in 2013 and more producers receiving licensure for their own on-farm facilities, we expect Massachusetts producer-processors to continue to see increased revenue, market access, and savings.
Farmer feedback from workshop evaluations, technical assistance sessions, and follow-up discussions suggests widespread adoption of elements of the training curriculum, including, workshops, educational materials, and one-on-one technical assistance. All of 23 producers who have obtained or are in the process of obtaining an MDPH slaughter license were beneficiaries of the project’s training events and resources. Those producers who have processed poultry under Massachusetts state licensure have put into practice nearly all of the practices taught at the hands-on practical skills and food safety workshop and the Farm and Food Safety Management Guide—a fact assured by the presence of a state poultry inspector verifying producer actions during processing at least on an annual basis. As the only comprehensive resources available to guide producers through the Massachusetts slaughter license application process, the classroom regulations workshop and the Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer-Processors have played integral roles for every producer to apply for and receive a state slaughter license. Feedback from farmers on the training events and materials has been overwhelmingly positive. Training events and educational resources were adjusted in response to early feedback suggesting the need for clearer explanation of the complex regulatory framework around on-farm poultry processing and added focus on practical skills training; evaluations received after these changes confirmed that these needs had been met. Producers were thankful not only for resources and assistance that made it possible for them to obtain licensure for on-farm processing, but also for information and advice that helped some producers determine that they are not yet ready to begin on-farm processing. Some sample quotes from producers: “You’re my go-to resource!” – Zach Kalas, Moon in the Pond Farm, Sheffield MA “Another wonderful training day, thank you again so much. We all got a ton out of it.” – Justin Webb, Patengill Farm, Salisbury, MA “I can’t tell you enough how helpful these workshops have been.” – Abby MacNeill, Nobscot Farm, Sudbury, MA “All of the people doing it themselves and getting licenses … that’s all because of you guys.” – Adam Frye, Stonewall Farm, Dunstable, MA “Thanks so much for all your work educating us! Your project is fantastic and I hope to take more classes in the future.” – Blake Buckalew, Emery Family Organic Farm, Westborough, MA
Areas needing additional study
Additional study is needed in order to determine the continuing impact of licensed on-farm poultry processing, especially as the number of licensed producers continues to grow and the producers followed by this project continue to expand their enterprise, having gained traction in new markets. Further study is also needed to quantify the impact of stationary on-farm facilities on farmer revenues and profits and to inform comparisons between stationary and mobile facilities.