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Small Farmers Turn To Mobile Livestock Slaughter

Chonko, who describes his farm as an "artisanal" producer of pasture-raised poultry, drives about 600 chickens and 200 ducks every two weeks to South Carolina for slaughter. He produces too many chickens for a mobile facility, but might consider using one for duck or turkey.

The mobile slaughterhouse is commonly viewed as an intermediate step, a way of helping small growers produce more meat. If the market grows large enough, building more slaughterhouses becomes feasible.

There are drawbacks to mobile facilities. Farmers must provide much of the labor. While cheaper than a bricks-and-mortar plant, mobile slaughterhouses entail maintenance and transportation costs, according to a 2012 study commissioned by Georgia Organics, a nonprofit group that represents growers and customers.

And wastewater contaminated with blood and tissue would likely need to be collected and treated, resulting in additional costs.

Given those complications, Georgia Organics has recommended more lenient on-farm slaughter rules and adding on poultry lines at existing red meat processors. It also supports building new, traditional slaughterhouses. Farmers in at least a dozen states use roving slaughterhouses, and Georgia Organics has recently explored the possibility of operating a mobile unit at a farmer's market in central Georgia.

"It would bring a new customer base and value to what they are already offering," said Michael Wall, the organization's director of programs.

Mobile slaughterhouses can meet the standards of traditional facilities, said Steven Skelton, who oversees a mobile slaughterhouse for Kentucky State University. It can process poultry, game birds, turkey, fish, caviar and rabbits.

The 200-foot trailer is parked inside an enclosed building to protect against flies and other pests. Once birds arrive, Skelton verifies that growers meet legal requirements and that their livestock is healthy. Workers place the birds upside down in metal cones, stun them and kill them by slicing their necks. Afterward, the carcasses are scalded to loosen feathers, plucked in a machine and then gutted and refrigerated. Farmers can package and label their products on site.

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