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Farmers need ready access to good quality slaughter and processing facilities in order to direct market meat and poultry products from their animals. Many regions of New York do not have sufficient facilities to meet the needs of local farmers, particularly during busy times of the year. New stationary plants are very expensive to build. Mobile plants are less expensive and may help fill the void. The initial investment in a mobile facility can be shared by several businesses or a cooperative, in order to better attract capital and spread operating costs. The owners will need to determine whether the mobile unit can service enough animals to make it worth the investment. Reliable estimates of the actual demand in the probable service area and of the daily volume of animals the plant can efficiently handle are necessary to make this determination. Keep in mind that the travel/labor expenses to get animals to and from processing are often reversed onto the operator of the mobile plant (rather than the owner of the animals) and may result in additional costs to a mobile plant operator as compared to a stationary plant.
One of the largest areas of growth in on-farm processing and sales has been in the production of pastured poultry. Pastured poultry is a production model where broiler chickens are raised predominantly on pasture in some form of movable structure. Due to the relatively small numbers of birds per farm and the seasonality of this production system, it can be difficult to find poultry processors to handle these birds. Additionally, almost all USDA poultry plants in New York are operated by private packers who do not slaughter or process birds for other farmers regardless of the season or volume.
Starting in the mid 1990’s several Mobile (Poultry) Processing Units have been designed and built for use in New York State by poultry farmers marketing their own birds under the 1000 bird exemption from federal inspection. These units are basically open trailers with poultry processing equipment mounted onto them. The operational concept is similar to that of an individual going to an equipment rental store and renting whatever equipment was needed to do the particular job on the farm. The trailers can be pulled by small pickup trucks either belonging to the poultry farm or the actual owner of the unit – which is often a non-profit agency providing services to farmers. Rental prices are based on the volume of birds to be processed or on a per bird price. In addition, there is usually a transportation fee depending on the distance the unit has to travel between the farm and its storage area. In most cases, farmers must replenish the scalder’s propane tank after use.
The units are usually intended to assist first year poultry producers with processing while they save up money to invest in their own stationary processing equipment and become proficient at safe and sanitary slaughtering and processing procedures. Participating farmers usually go through a training program on sanitary poultry slaughtering and processing. Many inexperienced processors will assist an experienced farmer operating the unit before they are able to rent the unit for use on their own farms.
One of the first mobile units was manufactured by the South Central New York Resource Conservation and Development Agency (SCNY RC&D). The unit was made by stripping a camper trailer to its frame, welding expanded metal to the frame and reinforcing it with additional angle iron. The processing components were then attached. These components included 5 poultry crates for containing live birds, 5 poultry kill cones to ensure correct bleeding, a propane fired scalder (capable of handling 3 to 4 birds at a time), a 3 to 4 bird barrel-type feather picker, a stainless steel evisceration table, chill tanks for processed birds, knives and scales. A 20-foot long tarp was included to provide shade and protection from the elements. There were also hookups for 110-volt electricity and water. Approximate construction cost for the MPU in 1995 was $3000 not including the 70 hours of labor required to assemble the unit.
A series of educational resources for use in training small poultry processors using mobile units is available from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Allegany County.
Mobile units are allowed for custom processing of poultry under the same limitations as any other custom transaction, i.e. the slaughtered or processed birds must be for the personal use of the owner. The unit would need to be inspected by the state (under contract with USDA FSIS) for prior approval.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has interpreted the definition of places and establishments where animal or poultry are butchered for food in the NY Agriculture & Markets (NYAM) Law to include mobile slaughter units. Therefore, New York State is willing to accept the operation of 5-A mobile poultry plants under Article 5-A of the NYAM Law. Such mobile units must satisfy the requirements of poultry farmers operating under the Producer/Grower – 20,000 bird exemption from federal inspection. In addition, farmers operating under the Producer/Grower – 1,000 bird exemption (only processing 1000 birds or less per calendar year to be marketed direct to consumers), may also rent the services of these mobile units but would not need to apply for a 5-A license.
The units are often fully enclosed trailers with similar design and equipment to stationary 5-A poultry plants. One such mobile unit, recently approved in New York and scheduled to operate in the Hudson Valley region, is owned by Wildcraft Farms. The farm’s owner, Ed Leonardi, plans for individual poultry farmers to go through a certification training program so that they could supply the labor when the mobile unit is on their farm. He estimates that it would take 6 to 8 people to process 500 chickens per day – with most farms only being able to supply enough labor to process 250 chickens per day. The farms would supply the propane, electricity, and potable water for the unit on-site and their own air compressor for operating the onboard dunker-scalder. Farms would need a level pad to park the unit and sufficient driveway clearance for an 8.5 x 28 ft trailer. The unit was made by retrofitting a new 2-car transport trailer with steel rather than aluminum walls. The unit is outfitted with a shackle system, killing tunnel, dunker-scalder, picker, hand wash sink, double sink, evisceration table, quality assurance table, bagging table and two chill tanks on wheels. Additional equipment includes an on-demand hot water heater, pressure pump, space heaters, and air conditioner. The unit obtained a waiver from the 5-A requirement for separate rooms for kill and evisceration in part because of the use of a killing tunnel.
Kentucky State University uses a refitted gooseneck trailer to provide slaughter/processing facilities to poultry farmers operating under the 20,000 bird exemption. The unit does not go from farm to farm. Instead, it was granted an exemption by the USDA FSIS Administrator from the requirement that a facility operating under a 20,000 bird exemption be limited to slaughtering for only one poultry owner at a given location. The trailer is docked at one of two centralized docking stations that are tied-in to septic, potable water and 220-volt electrical systems. The docking stations operate as fully enclosed kill floors and the trailer operates as the evisceration room. Rather than renting the services of mobile unit employees for the days, farmers are required to undergo rigorous training in the plant’s HACCP plans and standard operating procedures in order to operate as facility manager on their scheduled slaughter/processing days. Several farmers utilizing the plant have been able to expand their operations to more than 20,000 birds per year and eventually build their own stationary USDA poultry plants.
There are several steps a New York farmer needs to go through to use a poultry mobile slaughtering unit (PMSU) under an Article 5-A license. The farmer must 1) consult with local zoning officials for an approved plan for operating a PMSU, 2) consult with zoning officials for an approved plan to dispose of inedible waste, 3) develop a NYSDAM approved floor plan for the PMSU – the operator/owner of the PMSU usually provides this, 4) have the water which will supply the PMSU, tested for potability, and 5) submit documentation of the above to the NYSDAM FSI Region Chief Inspector for approval. An Article 5-A License application can then be forwarded upon approval of documents. After review of the establishment/farm’s facilities, including access to a toilet facility, the Department may consider a facility variance from certain requirements; provided that the mobile unit has met Department approval and the establishment /farm acknowledges the unit’s operator as an employee of the establishment/farm as so stated pursuant to Article 5-A of Agriculture and Markets Law. Please note, the Article 5-A License is issued to the poultry farmer’s premises; not to the PMSU. Establishments/farms employing a PMSU must maintain compliance with the NYSDAM PMSU Protocol, and are responsible for ensuring the mobile unit is clean and sanitized before it enters the premises and, cleaned and sanitized before the unit leaves the premises.
The NYSDAM Division of Food Safety Inspection has recently written an easy-to-read protocol for the licensing of PMSUs. This protocol is reproduced verbatim below.
NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets
Division of Food Safety & Inspection
10B Airline Drive
Albany, NY 12235
Poultry Mobile Slaughtering Unit Protocol
Establishments intending to utilize a Poultry Mobile Slaughtering Unit (PMSU) must adhere to the following guidelines:
1. The operator of the Poultry Mobile Slaughtering Unit shall arrange to meet with the Zone Supervising Inspector or Regional Chief Inspector to discuss their plans for their poultry mobile slaughtering unit. The operator shall submit a floor plan of their proposed operations to the Meat and Poultry Supervisor and/or the Zone Supervisor prior to the meeting. The unit floor plan shall include but not be limited to the following:
Dimensions of the unit.
Location of the hand wash sink, and equipment washing and sanitizing sinks within the unit.
Location of refrigeration equipment.
Location of hot water and potable water supply.
Location of water storage facilities or outlet.
Location of entrance/exit.
License number of vehicle(s).
Note: Potable water source and discharge of wastewater must be approved in writing by the appropriate county or state health department.
2. The establishment/farm leasing the poultry mobile slaughtering unit slaughtering more than 250 turkeys or 1,000 birds of all other species must be inspected and licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, pursuant to the regulations of Article 5-A, of the Agriculture and Markets Law.
3. Only after review of the establishment/farm’s facilities, including access to a toilet facility, the Department may consider a facility variance from certain requirements, provided the mobile unit has met Department approval and the establishment/farm acknowledges the units operator as an employee of the establishment/farm as so stated pursuant to Article 5-A of the Agriculture and Markets Law.
4. The operator of the poultry mobile slaughtering unit and the licensee shall be required to keep the following written records:
Names and addresses of establishments/farms leasing the mobile slaughtering unit and dates used.
Production records indicating the species and number of poultry processed for retail sale and wholesale.
Standard Sanitation Operating Procedure (SSOP) log for each day processing occurs.
Water quality verification.
5. Finished product (wrapped, encased) labeling shall contain the establishment/farm’s name, address and the statement “Exempt P.L. 90-492”.
6. The operator of the poultry mobile slaughtering unit will be required to fax to the appropriate Regional Chief Inspector or Zone Supervising Inspector their tentative monthly slaughtering schedule at the beginning of each month.
7. The poultry mobile slaughtering unit operator and the licensee must consult with local zoning officials before commencing the operation of the poultry mobile slaughtering unit.
For more information, contact any NYSDAM Regional Office at:
ALBANY SYRACUSE ROCHESTER BUFFALO NEW YORK CITY NEWBURGH
(518) 457-5459 (315) 487-0852 (585) 427-2273 (716) 847-3185 (718) 722-2876 (845) 220-2047
The Vermont Department of Agriculture now operates a USDA equivalent state inspected mobile poultry unit for use by farmers in their state. This unit consists of a completely enclosed 8’ x 36’ trailer with separate kill and eviscerating rooms, tiny on board bathroom and office for state inspectors (rarely if ever used), ice machine, on board generator, and on board propane tanks for the hot water and scalder. The unit is towed with an F-550 truck. Most of the equipment was purchased through Cornerstone Farm Ventures http://cornerstone-farm.com/ in Norwich, New York. The unit was manufactured by Brothers Body & Equipment in Ohio. The unit is valued at about $93,000 and is leased to a private operator under a 2-year renewable contract with a buy out option. The Vermont Department of Natural Resources has granted a variance so that the mobile unit can manage wastewater when on-farm as a farm operation. Farmers rent the unit and the operator’s services. The operator can process 100 birds per day. However, the unit was designed to employ two people processing 200 birds per day.
Unlike Vermont, New York does not have provision for USDA equivalent state inspected meat plants. Thus, NY farmers and funding agencies wanting to operate a similar mobile unit under USDA federal inspection would need to contact the USDA FSIS District Office in Albany to discuss the likelihood of similar prototypes being approved as mobile USDA poultry plants in New York.
Custom mobile units have been permitted in the past in New York. However, unless animals are being processed the same day that they are field harvested, or the farm has its own cooler facilities for hanging carcasses, the mobile units may actually result in more back and forth transportation than a stationary plant. The animals are normally field harvested and then transported back to the mobile unit’s docking station where they are hung in a refrigerated truck. After hanging, they are moved to the mobile processing unit for cutting and packaging, and then transferred to a freezer truck for return to the consumer. The mobile processing unit has similar facilities to those required for a 20-C mobile red meat processing unit. The unit needs to be inspected by the state (under contract with USDA FSIS) for prior approval. The owner of the animal must take possession of the meat/meat products, which are limited to their personal use and must be marked “not for sale”.
The New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets interprets the definition of places and establishments where animals or poultry are processed for food in the NY Agriculture & Markets (NYAM) Law to include mobile processing units. Therefore a farmer may get livestock inspected and passed at a USDA federally inspected slaughter house and properly transport the meat back to the farm for further processing under the farmer’s own 20-C retail meat processing license at an on-site mobile unit previously approved for 20-C red meat processing. The restrictions for marketing the resulting meat products are identical to those for USDA inspected meat processed at a stationary 20-facility.
One such 20-C mobile processing unit operates under the name “Cowboy Custom Processing”. This unit operates out of Schoharie County, NY. The unit is an 8’ x 24’enclosed trailer that can be pulled by a ¾-ton pickup truck. It includes a saw, mixer, grinder, cutting tables, three-bay sink, programmable scale, and wrapping equipment. The owner, Eric Shelley, provided all labor other than installation of the refrigeration system. The whole unit cost “not much more than a new truck” and was partially funded through a low-interest loan from the county Industrial Development Agency (IDA). The unit serviced at least four farms operating under individual 20-C licenses. Several of these farms expanded their markets enough to eventually build their own stationary 20-C establishments. Similar to mobile poultry plants, a complete time-consuming cleanup of the unit is required between uses by different farms. Thus, its efficiency increases as the number of animals processed per farm visit increases.
The conditions that the 20-C farmer and the mobile unit operator must meet are listed in the following NYSDAM FSI document.
Establishments intending to utilize a mobile retail meat-processing unit must adhere to the following guidelines:
1. Establishment operators shall arrange to meet with the NYSDAM FSI Zone Supervising Inspector or Regional Chief Inspector to discuss their plans for their mobile retail meat-processing unit. The establishment operator shall submit a floor plan of their proposed operations to the Zone Supervisor prior to the meeting. The unit floor plan shall include but not be limited to the following:
• Dimensions of the unit
• Location of equipment, hand wash sink, and washing and sanitizing sinks within the unit.
• Location of refrigeration equipment.
• Location of hot water and wastewater storage facilities.
• Location of entrance/exit.
• License number of vehicle(s)
Note: Potable water source and discharge of wastewater must be approved in writing by the appropriate county or state health department.
2. The mobile retail meat processing unit may operate only at an establishment/farm inspected and licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, pursuant to the regulations of Article 20-C, of the Agriculture and Markets Law.
3. Only after review of the establishment/farm’s facilities, including access to a toilet facility, the Department may consider a facility variance from certain requirements, provided the mobile unit has met Department approval and the establishment/farm acknowledges the units operator as an employee of the establishment/farm as so stated pursuant to Article 20-C of the Agriculture and Markets Law.
4. The operator of the mobile retail meat-processing unit and the licensee shall be required to keep the following written records:
• Documentation, i.e. invoices or receipts, verifying all meats/meat products for retail were slaughtered at a USDA facility
• Production records indicating the start weight of the carcass and how many pounds were processed for retail sale. .
• Standard Sanitation Operating Procedure (SSOP) log for each day processing occurs.
• Water quality verification.
5. Finished product (cut, wrapped) labeling shall contain the establishment/farm’s name, address and all other information required by law.
6. The operator of the mobile retail meat-processing unit will be required to fax to the appropriate Regional Chief Inspector or Zone Supervising Inspector their tentative monthly processing schedule at the beginning of each month.
7. The mobile retail meat-processing unit and the licensee must consult with local zoning officials before commencing the operation of the mobile retail meat-processing unit.
8. The mobile retail meat processing unit operator and/or the licensee may be required under Article 5-C to register as a Disposal Plant/Transportation Service.
For more information, contact a NYSDAM Regional Office: ALBANY (518) 457-5459; SYRACUSE (315) 487-0852; ROCHESTER (585) 427-2273; BUFFALO (716) 847-3185; NEW YORK CITY (718) 722-2876.
The flat bed trailers used in NY for mobile slaughter/processing of poultry under the 1000 bird exemption are not sufficient for the slaughter and processing of rabbits under a 5-A license. However, it is likely that a protocol could be developed to allow for the slaughter and processing of rabbits in the enclosed trailers approved by NY for 5-A poultry processing. Several other states operate modified mobile units that are approved for poultry farmers operating under the Producer/Grower – 20,000 bird exemption AND rabbit producers.
There are no mobile processing units for large non-amenable species in New York. However, the first large scale mobile slaughter/processing units operated in the United States were originally designed for the field harvesting of large non-amenable meat species. Animals were dispatched outside the trailers and then the carcasses brought in for further processing. The expense of the units is probably the major impediment to their operation in New York.
USDA federally inspected red meat mobile plants now operate in several states. These units consist of tractor/trailer combinations. Most units are equipped to only slaughter, dress out, wash, and store the carcasses. The carcasses are then transported to a centralized cut and wrap stationary establishment or to a farmer designated meat locker or other such processing plant. These units require creative thinking and problem solving on the part of regional USDA FSIS officers because the federal regulations are based on stationary meat plants.
Special issues relating to mobile red meat USDA slaughter plants include considerations as to the needs of the inspector. Most inspectors working with mobile plants need advance notice of schedules and slaughter locations than is required by an inspector operating at a stationary meat plant. Directions to each location need to be provided well in advance. Prior approval of each site may be necessary. If inspectors need to travel a long distance to meet the traveling unit, overtime may be required. Inspectors need access to computers and telephones regardless of the location of the facility; this requirement is not waved for mobile units in the field. However, technological advances -in terms of cell phones and EVDO wireless cards – often provide sufficient access. Mobile USDA facilities typically do not include rest room facilities. Instead, FSIS offices in several states have issued waivers allowing the use of portable rest rooms or farmhouse lavatories. The units usually provide a place for the inspector’s file cabinet, storage cabinet and horizontal space for computer and printer use and storage of his/her records, brands, and supplies.
Another challenging issue for the field unit is the designation of the official address of the mobile unit. Mobile units have used the official address of either the home address of the unit’s manager or the address of the stationary processing plant affiliated with the mobile unit.
The water used for slaughtering and processing must be certified as potable. Several mobile units carry their own water tanks (e.g. 500 gallons) which are filled at specific locations supplying the certified potable water requirements. In situations where the farm’s water is not certified, the on-farm water is used only for cleaning the outside of the mobile unit. In some cases, each farm is required to provide a certification of potable water and thus meets the water supply requirement. The units must supply 180º F water. This can be achieved by a heat exchanger and electric sterilizers, or hot water heaters. Some mobile units in addition to carrying potable water also carry holding tanks to contain a wastewater. In other cases, the farmer is responsible for discharging wastewater properly.
Other issues may need to be addressed with mobile units. The trailers should be parked on a gravel or concrete pad. Concrete pads need to be sloped with drain lines or fields for run-off, while gravel pads have the advantage of allowing blood and water to percolate through. Slaughtering and processing wastewater should not be discharged into sewers or storm drains. The live animal inspection and kill usually takes place in outside pens supplied by the farm and adjacent to the trailer-landing pad. Adequate restraint must be provided for dentition examination of the animals if necessary and for humane stunning. Depending on the number of animals slaughtered and the frequency the site is used, the pen flooring can be grass, gravel, or concrete. Rodent control is also an issue and the site must not harbor any rodents. This can be an issue when the pens are located near or within a barn structure. Vegetation around the landing site should be mowed short or eliminated to discourage rodents.
After the animal has been inspected and dispatched, it is then hoisted into the trailer but only after the previous carcass has been moved into the cooler. The access door should be closed immediately behind the animal to avoid flies. Carcasses are inspected on the rail after skinning but prior to washing. In some cases, inedible offal can be inspected on the floor if space is otherwise limited for this activity. Removable head racks and drain trays may be used for head and edible offal inspections respectively. Inedible materials are often properly and legally disposed of on-farm under variances from state officials allowing the mobile unit to operate as an on-farm activity. Some states such as New York allow on-farm composting.
Most of the units currently approved for federally inspected red meat are designed to handle cattle and pigs. Several of these were built through either Tri Van http://www.trivan.net/ in Ferndale, WA and Waco, TX or Featherlite http://www.fthr.com/ in Cresco, Iowa. Featherlite has several dealers in the Northeast US. The currently approved units may be larger than what is necessary for small ruminants only. The Spirit of Humane http://spiritofhumane.com/ in Wisconsin used a grant from the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE) Program to develop a mobile slaughter unit for sheep and goats. The unit is only approved for custom slaughter thus far, but, purportedly, was built to meet USDA federal inspection standards. It consists of an 8 x 24 x 8 ft. trailer towed by a ¾-ton pickup. The trailer was created by bolting a truck van body to a mobile home trailer bed. It includes an electrically heated ceramic tile floor, food grade plastic coated walls and reinforced ceiling, grey water collection tank, 4 x 8 ft. chill area with side exit from the trailer, water proof lighting, stainless steel sink and work tables, and a double rail upright slaughter restrainer for humane Halal kill of small ruminants within the back part of the trailer. USDA inspectors did a walk thru of the plant and recommended increased ventilation to prevent moisture condensation by adding a ceiling air conditioner and fan, and an active insect control system such as an ultra violet light flytrap. The unit cost $46,000 to build including research, design and redesign time. The owners estimate that similar units could be built for $25,000.
To date, there are no USDA mobile red meat plants operating in New York. Units have been built for possible use and the USDA FSIS regional office is determining the feasibility of allowing USDA mobile units within the state.
1) File an application for a Federal Grant of Inspection with your USDA FSIS District office. Be sure to include either a drawing or written description of the “Limits of the Establishment Premises”.
2) Make sure that the unit meets Regulatory Performance Standards (listed in Sections 416.1 to 416.6 of Title 9 of the Federal Code). A FSIS representative from the District Office (often the frontline supervisor) will inspect your unit.
3) Reserve an establishment number and obtain approved labels containing the assigned establishment number.
4) Obtain approved water source letter from local authorities that identifies the water source, states that the source is approved and that water is certified as potable and meets EPA testing requirements. An acceptable current water laboratory sample report must be on file before inspection can be granted.
5) Obtain an approved sewage system letter from local health agency. In several cases, dispersal of blood and waste water into farmer’s fields has been approved for mobile units.
6) Provide a written Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Sanitation – Sections 416.11 to 416.17 of Title 9 of the Federal Code.
7) Provide a written Hazard Analysis and HACCP Plan – Section 417 of Title 9 of the Federal Code.
8) Submit schedules for hours of operation as soon in advance as possible.
9) Make sure “office space” for the inspector is prepared. Can be a conveniently located locker and horizontal space. Obtain prior approval to dispense with desk and toilet requirements if these will not be available.
USDA FSIS is preparing the publication, “Guidelines on Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance”. There is a publication on “Guidelines for Obtaining a Federal Grant of Inspection” (includes sample forms and approval letters) at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/Grant_of_Inspection_Guideline/index.asp
For more information on mobile meat plants, check out the mobile processing page on the Niche Meat Processing Assistance Network’s Website http://www.extension.org/pages/Mobile_Slaughter/Processing_Units