Photo: Great Beyond, Flickr
Although Americans' appetite for local, grass-fed beef is growing, regional livestock farmers face a nagging problem: a shortage of slaughterhouses. Now some of them are turning to mobile operations to butcher their animals on their own farms.
Kim Snyder is one of them. A former operations manager for American Express who turned to farming in 2003, Snyder, 42, raises livestock in a way the she believes is as humane as possible; her cattle and hogs are pasture- and grain-fed, and free of antibiotics and hormones. Yet when it comes time to slaughter them, she must load them into a trailer for a two- or three-hour trip to a butcher for what she said is a cruelly jarring end.
"It's like the last piece of my puzzle I can't control," she said on the phone from her Faith's Farm near Kankakee, Ill., about an hour-and-a-half south of Chicago. She has begun talking with others in the area about developing a mobile slaughterhouse that would travel the state. She said the idea has been met with interest by other farmers, some of whom share her philosophy as well as others who are simply looking to save valuable time lost by traveling long distances to bring their animals to slaughter.
If she is successful, the Illinois unit would join a small but growing band of federally inspected mobile slaughterhouses across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are nine federally inspected mobile slaughter units in the U.S., all of which process red meat. The movement reflects a consolidation of the industry over the past several decades that has resulted in massive slaughter facilities designed to accommodate livestock raised on corporate farms.
The U.S.D.A. has acknowledged the issue and its Rural Development Agency has extended grants to mobile slaughterhouses. Additionally, last May, the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a compliance guide for mobile slaughter units geared to helping small processors and establishments who own or manage mobile slaughter units meet food safety regulatory requirements.
For Snyder, a mobile slaughterhouse would be mean a way for her animals "to start and end their lives" on her farm.