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Poultry processing: New butchering options available to farmers and home growers

Oct 16th, 2014 | Category: Features

Osprey Hill Butchery, Northwest Agriculture Business Center, and Oak Meadows Farm offer services

by Becca Schwarz Cole

Local poultry producers can now use the services of two new butchering units, with a third option launching this winter. Each facility has different funding methods behind their units, but all seek the support and use of local farmers and home growers – and customers – to keep the facilities running. Following the closure of Lynden Meats’ poultry processing last year, local growers were left without a solid, USDA certified processor; a mandatory regulation for on-farm sales and to sell to customers. Combined with the rising need for local meat, these new butchering units are helping farmers meet local demand.

Osprey Hill Farm, with its new sister business Osprey Hill Butchery, built a permanent unit in Acme available to local farmers and home growers. The Northwest Agriculture Business Center (non-profit) received grant funding to construct a mobile unit, and Oak Meadows Farm, in Ferndale, is in the process of starting up to build their own mobile unit this winter.

 

Osprey Hill Butchery

Osprey Hill Farm in Acme has been raising poultry for years, and launched their sister business, Osprey Hill Butchery, in mid-August. The new start-up allows for a more expanded butchering site (the farm has doubled its meat poultry numbers from 2,000 last year to 4,000 this year) and offers butchering services for other local farmers and home-growers.

Anna Martin, co-owner of Osprey Hill Farm and its new sister business Osprey Hill Butchery, does a final cleaning for quality control. Once the birds are butchered and cleaned, they are immediately placed in an ice water bath, and moved to the large walk-in cooler inside Osprey Hill Butchery's processing unit. The rack in the background holds 250 birds. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

Anna Martin, co-owner of Osprey Hill Farm and its new sister business Osprey Hill Butchery, does a final cleaning for quality control. Once the birds are butchered and cleaned, they are immediately placed in an ice water bath, and moved to the large walk-in cooler inside Osprey Hill Butchery’s processing unit. The rack in the background holds 250 birds. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

Their new butchering unit is in a permanent location on farmland in Acme, having been completed through a partnership with a local, private investor group called Raptor Group. The 500-square-foot unit was constructed by Simple Box in Lynden, and includes defined areas and equipment for the butchering and evisceration steps, and a walk-in cooler. Chickens and turkeys are currently being processed; waterfowl and hare butchering will be offered in coming months.

According to co-owner Anna Martin, who operates the family farm with husband Geoff Martin and their three children, the decision to add on another part of the business made sense in this market and is something they have thought about for some time.

“We’ve been researching the processed poultry market, looking at floor plans, and contemplating the idea for about five years,” Martin said, noting they have been seriously working on the unit the last 15 months. “There were two driving forces behind this expansion. The first was a very basic need to create an avenue from which local producers could legally process and sell poultry, waterfowl, and hare. The second was to broaden the range of our farm’s revenue generating base.”

The Martins, who grow a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs on their certified organic farm and operate a CSA, started with laying hens about 15 years ago, and added heritage turkeys in 2004. “From there we included meat birds into our production in 2007. That year we raised 600 broilers. By 2009, we were raising 1,200 birds. In 2010, 1,800 broilers. In 2011, 2,000 broilers. This year, 4,000 broilers.”

The meat chickens they raise are included in their customers’ CSA boxes and available for sale directly from their farm (whole birds are frozen, so the product is available throughout the season), and also sold through local stores Terra and the Downtown Community Food Co-op in Bellingham. The North Cascades Institute and other locations purchase their chicken, and their products are also available through the Acme Farms & Kitchen meat share. Some of the product also heads to the Seattle area.

Osprey Hill Butchery is licensed to butcher a total of 19,999 birds in one year. Both Anna and Geoff are directly involved in the process, from butchering to freezing. Fellow farmer Zach Tyler of Brittle Barn Farm also helps on butchering days as needed.

All poultry parts not sold (feathers, intestines, etc.) are collected during the processing and later moved by tractor to the compost site on the farm. The farm has a year-long composting process. All water used during the process is also collected for later irrigation in farm fields. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

All poultry parts not sold (feathers, intestines, etc.) are collected during the processing and later moved by tractor to the compost site on the farm. The farm has a year-long composting process. All water used during the process is also collected for later irrigation in farm fields. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

“On any given day, we need a minimum of 150 chicken or 60 turkeys to operate the unit but that minimum can be reached by several producers and/or home-growers,” she said, noting home growers can use the butchering unit as well. “We offer stepped pricing based on the number of birds brought in by a single person so the more birds the less expensive the processing because it’s more efficient for us.”

The new unit allows for six birds to be processed at a time.

“Farming isn’t a lucrative business, in fact it made Forbes’ short list for least profitable industries, yet it’s an art and a way of life worth preserving so we began asking how we could make it more viable,” Martin said. “With the completion of this unit, suddenly, we are able to offer value added products as well as being able to offer a service.”

Martin said they are “just starting to explore the possibilities here,” and look forward to what comes ahead.

Wholes and halves are currently offered, with parted birds (breast, leg, thigh, wing, and back) coming early this winter. Ground products, like chicken sausage, will be available in the late winter/early spring.

Young poults at Osprey Hill Farm in Acme. PHOTO BY KYLER MARTIN

Young poults at Osprey Hill Farm in Acme. PHOTO BY KYLER MARTIN

All the poultry parts that are not able to be sold, as well as the water used during the processing, are collected and reintegrated back into the farm. The feathers, intestines, etc. are added into the farm’s compost. “All the water is collected in a 1,000 gallon holding tank and it will be emptied on an as-needed basis and used to irrigate the nearby pasture,” Martin said.

Anyone interested in reserving space in the unit can visit the farm’s website at www.ospreyhillfarm.com and click on the butchering link.

(Note: A step-by-step in photos of the butchering process at Osprey Hill Butchery accompanied this article in print. To view these photos (from live bird to fully processed for the freezer) see http://grownorthwest.com/2014/10/step-by-step-in-photos-whole-bird-butchering-and-processing/.)

 

Northwest Agriculture Business Center’s MPPU

The Northwest Agriculture Business Center opened a new Mobile Processing Poultry Unit (MPPU) over the summer, now available to farmers in Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan and Snohomish counties.

According to project leader Fred Berman, the unit is funded by $125,000 in grant money received through the Whatcom Community Foundation’s (WCF) Sustainable Whatcom Fund and a loan for $50,000 from the WCF. He added they are in need of additional capital.

Several farms have used the unit to date, including Growing Washington (Alm Hill), Skagit River Ranch, Cedarville Farm, Sky Valley Family Farm, Oak Meadows Farm, Well Fed Farms and Sage & Sky Farm. The numbers of processed birds have varied from site to site, between 100 and 450.

As a mobile processing facility, the unit can legally process up to 20,000 birds at each farm, Berman said, however, “No one farmer is producing at that scale and most are producing between 100 [to] 300 per batch…”

The NABC’s Mobile Processing Poultry Unit. COURTESY PHOTO

The NABC’s Mobile Processing Poultry Unit. COURTESY PHOTO

For local farms currently producing on a smaller scale, these numbers amount to the low hundreds (for most farms) to a couple doing around 4,000 per year.

This mobile unit may be used in conjunction with the WSDA permits for on-farm sales or for home consumption of poultry.

“Since NABC is a non-profit with emphasis on assisting farmers and providing essential infrastructure for them,” Berman said the unit is for farmers, however they would be open to the coordination of ‘Community Processing Days’ in which a community member or a group coordinates the unit for home-growers to use, with a minimum number of birds confirmed.

Berman said the processing costs are currently being reviewed, and a minimum number of birds are required to book the facility. They have been processing for $3.50 per bird, but are considering raising that to $4 per bird. A Community Processing Day for non-farmers would probably cost $5 per bird, he added.

Like many start-up projects, they experienced some bumps in the first weeks. The newly built mobile unit was not actually completed at the time of NABC’s launch date, so another unit had to be rented from elsewhere in the state to meet the needs of poultry producers who had already booked processing dates. Currently, Berman said the unit is in need of hiring a supervisor and at least one processing technician. (Anyone interested in learning more about those positions can contact him directly at Fred@agbizcenter.org.)

Berman is excited about the potential use of the unit and the local markets. He admits their first year projections for use will be challenging to meet, and added the NABC is planning on coordinating a series of workshops this winter to encourage more producers to consider pastured poultry production.

“Our workshops will include production, processing and marketing for profit and assist with business planning and enterprise development,” he said.

The unit allows for everything not being sold – the offal, blood, and feathers – to stay on the farm where they are produced and used for compost and soil fertility. “All waste water from processing is dispersed safely on the land where the birds are raised, an additional bonus for soil fertility,” Berman said.

“I still believe that we can develop a viable pastured poultry industry in the [Pacific Northwest], as well as increase demand and production of rabbits, too. Our MPPU is a major project and commitment by NABC and we’re counting on our farmers to put it to use for their benefit,” he said.

For more information, contact Fred@agbizcenter.org.

 

Oak Meadows Farm

David Whittaker, 19, of Oak Meadows Farm in Ferndale, started raising ducks when he was 12, and moved on to poultry at 16. Since then, he’s increased his production from 40 in 2011 to 400 chickens this year, with his product selling out.

David Whittaker, 19, of Ferndale, runs Oak Meadows Farm, with the support of his parents. He raises poultry for meat and eggs, quail for eggs and chicks, rabbits for meat, and has also tried ducks. Goats and sheep are a part of their farm too. COURTESY PHOTO

David Whittaker, 19, of Ferndale, runs Oak Meadows Farm, with the support of his parents. He raises poultry for meat and eggs, quail for eggs and chicks, rabbits for meat, and has also tried ducks. Goats and sheep are a part of their farm too. COURTESY PHOTO

With the support of his parents, he is planning to raise 700-800 chickens in 2015 on the family’s 10-acre farm, and also wants to build his own mobile processing unit to make his operation more efficient.

“Most of my customers are people looking for a good quality chicken for their families. Most of what I sell is fresh chicken picked up on farm within a day or two of butchering, but I am selling some frozen product through Sound Harvest Delivery,” he added. “I am not selling any meats to restaurants or stores right now.”

He is currently using the MPPU through the NABC, but is excited to build his own unit and has launched a Barnraiser project (similar to Kickstarter, but all projects are agricultural-related) to help with funding.

Whittaker said he wants to build a unit to provide a service for smaller farmers and backyard poultry enthusiasts who are looking for a means of processing their animals, especially in numbers less than 75 at a time.

He is seeking a primary goal of $5,000 in fundraising, which would meet about half of the costs of the equipment and building the unit, he said. A total of $10,000 would almost completely cover the costs of the unit and building, and $15,000 would enable him to use local contractors to help in the building process, ensuring it will be done in a timely manner by trained plumbers and electricians. If the fundraising goals are not met, he will take out a loan to complete it, he said.

Any funds received will go to help purchase a cargo trailer and processing equipment, and other items needed to transform the trailer into an efficient and cost-effective processing unit, he said.

He had been thinking about doing his own butchering for about a year. “I would like my own unit because I feel that using the current unit is holding back my farm. I am not able to butcher small batches of anything because I need to have 100 birds or rabbits before the unit will come out to our farm,” he said. “With my own unit, I can butcher whatever amount I like whenever I think the time is best.”

Turkeys at Oak Meadows Farm in Ferndale. COURTESY PHOTO

Turkeys at Oak Meadows Farm in Ferndale. COURTESY PHOTO

Whittaker plans to be the primary butcher, and has friends that can help now and then. He hopes to launch his Barnraiser site in the next few weeks and begin building this winter.

“I have about 50 chickens still available for sale this fall and about 10 turkeys,” he said of his current birds remaining to be sold.

For more information on Oak Meadows Farm, visit oakmeadowsfarm.weebly.com or their Facebook page. The project link for the farm’s fundraiser is available online at www.barnraiser.us/projects/help-me-build-a-poultry-processing-unit.

 

Small-scale local producers

Following are some farms offering poultry. Contact directly to purchase products or with questions.

 

Osprey Hill Farm: 5800 Saxon Road, Acme, www.ospreyhillfarm.com, Geoff and Anna Martin

 

Skagit River Ranch: 28778 Utopia Road, Sedro-Woolley, (360) 856-0722, www.skagitriverranch.com, George and Eiko Vojkovich

 

Akyla Farms: Sedro-Woolley, (360) 941-1533, akylafarms.com, Kevin and Carol Osterman

 

Oak Meadows Farm: Ferndale, (360) 384-6005, oakmeadowsfarm.weebly.com, David Whittaker

 

Brittle Barn Farm: 4730 Guide Meridian, Bellingham, (360) 610-7740, brittlebarnfarms.com, Zack Tyler

 

Growing Washington: Everson, clayton@growingwashington.org, Clayton Burrows

 

Cedarville Farm: 3081 Goshen Road, Bellingham, (360) 592-5594, cedarvillefarm.com, Mike and Kim Finger

 

Well Fed Farms: Skagit County, (360) 708-0520, farm@wellfedfarms.net, Erik Olson

 

Sage & Sky Farm: 3002 E. Smith Road, Bellingham, (360) 255-0757, sageandskyfarm.com, Andrea and Sam Roper

 

Sky Valley Family Farm: Startup, (360) 793-1239, Brent and Cindy Rappuhn

 

Adalyn Farm: Stanwood, (360) 474-7427, adalynfarm.com, Adam Stevens

 

Bride Ide Acres: Snohomish, brightideacres.com, Micha Ide

 

Newman Pastures: 2100 Newman Road, Langley, newmanpastures.com

 

A Man and His Hoe: Bow, (360) 202-0386, everychickdeservesamother.com

 

Published in the October 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

2 Comments to “Poultry processing: New butchering options available to farmers and home growers”

  1. Kate Smith says:

    Thank you for this great information! We raise our own birds and do our own butchering, but this is very helpful to know as we increase our numbers and work on our farm plans. Good going everyone!

  2. Jerry Mackenzie says:

    WOW! I had no idea this was available. Thank you for this most informative piece and the step by step photos.

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