Iowa Public Television


Mobile Slaughterhouse Assists in Trend to Locally Killed Meat

posted on July 31, 2009

LOMPOC, Calif. (AP) — The end of the line for cattle raised at Elizabeth Poett's spread on the Central Coast used to come at an inland slaughterhouse after a five-hour drive crammed in a trailer with other spooked animals.

Now death comes to Rancho San Julian in the form of a mobile butchering vehicle that caters to small ranchers offering premium meats marketed as free-range, grass-fed and sustainably raised.

While "locally slaughtered" may not join those buzz words on meat labels, the practice allows the eighth-generation rancher and her peers to do what their ancestors took for granted: raise animals from manger to cuts of meat.

"They are treated like animals should be treated when they're harvested here with, I believe, dignity and respect," said Poett, 29.

Soaring interest in meat from free-roaming cattle and more than $180,000 in government grants helped give ranchers in the remote area the momentum to get the mobile unit on the road and cut out the middlemen between farms and shoppers.

The concept harkens to a bygone age when cattle grazed in pastures and ranchers butchered them. That changed in the early 1900s when the government required meat inspection at federally regulated slaughterhouses.

Since then, beef production has become consolidated with 76 percent of the nation's cattle slaughtered in 26 plants, each capable of handling more than 500,000 animals a year, said John Nalivka, president of livestock industry consultant Sterling Marketing Inc.

Ranchers are taking the mobile unit for a spin at a cost of $240 per animal for slaughter and butchering. By the end of summer, six ranches will be using the "mobile harvest unit," a tractor-trailer outfitted with knives, meat hooks and a freezer.

The vehicle employs three butchers and shares a USDA inspector with a nearby meat-packaging shop.

Tags: agriculture animals cattle livestock meat news