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Farmers introduced to mobile poultry processing unit

RONAN — Over the last few decades, much of the meat processing industry has been taken out of the hands of the local farmer and become a corporate industry, comprised of feedlots and factory farms. 

But this April, local organizations introduced a new tool to give farmers and local poultry raisers a way to slaughter and prepare chicken to sell to mainstream retailers.

The tool is called the Montana Mobile Processing Unit and consists of a trailer and a truck that can slaughter up to 300 chickens in one day on a farm.  

The unit travels back and forth in the state and is booked by farmers by appointment only. The trailer is the killing floor and enables local farmers to butcher, pluck and store their chickens in a clean, regulated manner. The second unit consists of a chilling bath and other storage necessary for the butchered birds. 

After five years of development and testing, the regulated equipment has already been booked by a few local farmers. One such farmer will slaughter 300 of his own birds for a dinner at the University of Montana this fall. There is a 250-bird minimum per use, and the unit is rented at a price of $1.75 per slaughtered bird. 

“What we are looking at is how we can develop a sustainable poultry industry in Montana,” Karl Sutton said. Sutton is the Lake County Community Development Corporation Food, Agricultural and Cooperative Development Project Coordinator.

LCCDC, the Montana Poultry Growers Cooperative, Farms for Families, USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant Programs and the Montana Department of Agriculture have been working together to develop the unit. 

LCCDC provides interested poultry producers with the educational workshops required before using the facilities.

Last Wednesday, LCCDC held one such workshop. The seminar emphasized critical regulations that are needed for chicken production, as well as how to mitigate the risk when a producer is processing birds for consumption. 

“Most people who attended were very interested on how they could legally process birds on their farms,” LCCDC Agricultural Enterprise Program Manager Jan Tusick said.

She added that the workshop provided local producers with a chance to network, and many stayed afterwards to discuss poultry production with other producers. 

As the law stands now, farmers may sell a live bird to a private individual and slaughter the bird for the buyer, but there is no legal method for a slaughtered bird to go from the farm to grocery stores and restaurants. With the unit, that’s all starting to change. 

“Our work here is really about redeveloping our rural local economies through local food system development,” Sutton said. 

Producers from all over the state attended the seminar, including Polson’s very own Will Tusick. 

Will raises lamb and chickens and slaughters his own meat on his farm. He instructed the crew of about six producers how to correctly slaughter a chicken. It was just a review for most of the farmers, but the expert chicken producer emphasized how to mitigate risk while slaughtering the animal to eat. Farmers can also rent out smaller tools to slaughter a chicken for their own use from the Montana Poultry Growers Coop.

The first of its kind in Montana, the Mobile Processing Unit was replicated from a beef mobile processing unit in Washington. Though the organizations have been getting many calls from local producers who are just curious, the majority of calls have been from out of state. Organizations from other states are anxious to get their own mobile units up and running. 

And hopefully with the demand for free-range and organic chicken, the unit will catch on with Montana’s farmers as well.

“I think Montana is really ripe for this,” Tusick said. “There are some good markets in Missoula and Kalispell.” 

For educational resources, more information on reserving the unit, or to join the Montana Poultry Growers Cooperative, please visit www.chicken.coop.

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