- Animals: poultry
- Animal Production: free-range
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop, youth education
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, e-commerce, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures
The local food movement in the High Plains region has achieved a significant milestone in 2015. Thanks to the support from North Central SARE and the dedication of several poultry producers, a USDA poultry meat processing facility now exists in Northwest Kansas. This represents the culmination of a dream-come-true for one of the poultry producers who has been pursuing building a facility for many years and who worked tirelessly to get the facility approved and operating.
The Mobile Processing Unit (or MPU for short) is a trailer based enclosed and completely equipped processing facility capable of processing up to 150 birds per day with expansion capability up to 200 birds per day. At start up, current USDA inspector availability and scheduling limits processing time to a half day, 3 days per week. In addition to the necessary processing equipment, the MPU includes packaging and storage capability as well.
This project included exploring the feasibility, designing, constructing, permitting, siting, startup and operating the MPU facility. And as a real test of success, the MPU has processed over 600 birds in short order and those birds come with an approved USDA inspection label.
As the demand for locally produced food in the United States continues to grow, a group of farmers in eastern Colorado and western Kansas are finding ways to diversify their farming operations and create opportunities for family members to return to the farm or provide beginning farmers an entry point into farming. One opportunity they have found is to supply regionally grown poultry products to customers in the High Plains region that includes Denver and the Front Range, home to nearly 6 million inhabitants.
Pasture based free range poultry production, a sustainable farming system adopted by many small-scale farmers across the United States, is being replicated in this region. However, pasture poultry producers in the area are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to addressing consumer demand for their locally produced chickens because birds processed on-farm do not qualify for USDA inspected status and there are only two USDA facilities, available to the public, in the entire 600 mile region between Denver and Kansas City that process poultry. For these reasons, sales are limited to direct household consumers and farmers markets while volume markets that make poultry farming more viable are not accessible.
Over the past 3 years several western Kansas and eastern Colorado producers have been supplying small quantities of poultry products direct to consumers through the High Plains Food Coop (HPFC). This has provided helpful market information and connections for expanding production. A number of growth oriented producers in the region expressed interest in expanding production but were limited by processing barriers that exist.
To address these barriers, this project included preparation and construction of a Mobile Processing Unit (MPU) to process poultry for the original group of farms and to expand processing to other High Plains Food Co-op producers. MPU’s are an innovative processing approach being used in other parts of the country and this project demonstrates the steps used to address implementation challenges related to USDA inspected MPUs.
The goals of this project were to: 1) organize the project, 2) estimate the start-up and operating costs, 3) determine feasibility, 4) site determination and permitting, 5) equipment purchasing and fabrication, 6) implementation and startup and 7) develop an expansion plan to scale-up processing.