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USDA-certified slaughterhouses coming soon

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The potential for north country farmers to raise livestock and poultry for sale to restaurants and institutions will improve shortly.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified mobile poultry slaughterhouse is expected to arrive in St. Lawrence County by the end of October. A second USDA-certified poultry slaughterhouse, mostly intended to handle a private flock but which eventually could take in some birds for other farmers, is being built in Massena.

A USDA-certified slaughterhouse for other livestock is in the works to open in the spring in Lewis County.

“I think it’ll be a really good thing for the economy,” said Rachel D. Brandt, who is working with her husband, Jordan D. Brandt, to reopen a long-closed slaughterhouse in Croghan. “In the long run, it’ll help everybody.”

Most farmers want their livestock processed in the fall, but a lack of USDA-certified plants makes scheduling at peak times difficult. The only USDA-certified plants in the north country are Tri-Town Packing in Brasher Center and Willard’s in Heuvelton.

Although farmers can sell meat to individuals, the USDA stamp allows sales to restaurants and institutions such as nursing homes and colleges. Not being able to book time in a slaughterhouse means farmers cannot guarantee delivery of their product.

“I had a million phone calls this summer looking for any kind of slaughterhouse,” Cornell Cooperative Extension educator Betsy Hodge said. “There were certainly a lot of people interested.”

Mr. and Mrs. Brandt run a custom slaughterhouse for every farm animal except ducks and geese in Carthage and also operate a mobile unit, but neither is USDA-certified. They had been trying to start a USDA-certified operation at their base in Carthage but were finding it difficult and expensive to meet regulations.

Instead, they purchased the former Devoy’s meat-cutting operation in Croghan, which went out of business a decade ago.

“This one was all set up and much more affordable,” Mrs. Brandt said. “We’re hoping to move into it by the end of October and have USDA certification by spring or summer.”

Their client list of 300 to 400 people for custom work could triple with the USDA certification, Mrs. Brandt said.

“We’re expecting to get people from as far as Malone or within a two- to three-hour radius,” she said.

She estimated the slaughterhouse would start off employing eight people, including her and her husband.

The couple will still butcher poultry in their mobile unit, but not in the slaughterhouse because chickens have higher bacteria counts, she said.

North Country Pastured — the recipient of a $130,000 state grant through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council — anticipates delivery of its USDA-certified mobile poultry unit Oct. 31, several months after it was expected.

Construction of the unit by Brothers Body & Equipment, Galion, Ohio, was delayed because equipment produced by the company for the military took precedence, said Renee C. Smith, manager of North Country Pastured, whose farm is near DeKalb Junction.

“That’s the date they guaranteed us,” she said. “We’re going forward with complete optimism.”

The contract for the mobile unit was awarded March 28, so North Country Pastured expected it much sooner. Ms. Smith said she feared some producers plunged into having more birds than they should have because they assumed the unit was on its way.

“I do believe most people held off,” she said. “That was one of the reasons we had informational meetings to inform people we were doing our best.”

Some producers have talked about raising winter poultry, so the unit still may see its first birds this year.

“We’ll be in full speed when spring comes around,” Ms. Smith said.

North Country Pastured is estimating it will process 25,000 chickens in its first year and exceed that number in subsequent years.

Cathy A. and Ronald G. Smith, 542 County Route 46, Massena, are in the midst of building a USDA-certified chicken slaughterhouse on their property. The slaughterhouse is intended mostly to process some of the 1,000 birds the Smiths raise annually so they can expand their market beyond sales at farmers markets and from their home.

“We butcher chickens three times a week, so the mobile unit wouldn’t do us any good,” Mrs. Smith said. “I need my own.”

Once completed, the slaughterhouse’s first year will focus on Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s own birds, but expansion in the future is possible, Mrs. Smith said.

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