By Doug Ottinger – A challenge small poultry producers face bringing their products to market is staying in compliance with health laws. Poultry processing equipment rental may be an option to help navigate federal, state and local laws.
Fortunately, there are some allowances under federal law for small farms and individual producers of slaughtered poultry. In a nutshell, small poultry farmers, who produce poultry for market, can slaughter and sell within their own states, up to one thousand birds, per year, exempt from Federal oversight and inspection.
However, state laws vary so they should be researched first. Some have few restrictions as long as the slaughter areas and methods used are sanitary. Others, such as Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Connecticut, have more stringent regulations.
There are some quirks in the Federal 1,000-bird exemption statute. Each chicken or duck counts as one bird. However, each turkey or each goose counts as four birds, meaning you can legally slaughter, for sale, only 250 turkeys or 250 geese.
The law also mandates that “the birds be from one farm, and not producer or farmer.” Therefore, if two brothers are farming on the same farm, each one cannot raise and slaughter one thousand birds. They can only slaughter one thousand birds between them (or the legal equivalent, if raising turkeys or geese).
There are numerous market niches for small poultry, egg and meat producers. Dual purpose chickens, Cornish Cross and Red Rangers each represent a viable niche. Ducks or guinea fowl are also good marketing niches. For producers who are able to rent mobile processing units, a long and tiring processing day can be significantly shortened.
Mobile Processing Rental Units – A Possible Alternative
Mobile processing units range from small, open-air trailers that have basic processing equipment mounted on the deck, to larger, enclosed units. The equipment generally includes several killing cones, a chicken-plucker, a scalding tank (often heated by a portable propane tank) a work table, and a sink. The larger, enclosed units sometimes have a chilling unit in them, too. Producers who rent the units must be able to supply the electricity, pressurized water source, propane for the scalding tank, and in some states, must have an approved disposal system in place for the wastewater, blood, and offal. Some states and counties also require the unit be parked on an approved, concrete pad when in use.
It’s important to find out what’s available in your area before counting on this option. Many listed publically as active and available are no longer in operation.
Financial losses have taken units out of production. Many were started with federal grant money. Unfortunately, they were not financially sustainable once the grant money was exhausted.
Also, organizations that once owned the units suffered a great deal of mechanical breakage from normal wear and tear and long distance hauling.
Daily rental costs vary by region and supplier. Units can also be purchased. Small, open-air units start in the $5,000 to $6,000 range for purchase. Larger enclosed processing trailers start at about $50,000. Cornerstone Farm Ventures, in North Carolina, is one company that builds the units. They also have a unit for rent in their own state.
What is the realistic number of birds that two or three people working together can process in an eight-hour workday? Normally about 100 to 150 chickens, or similar birds, can be processed in that time, although an experienced group that understands assembly line work, can often process 200 to 250 birds in the same time frame.
If producers can find mobile poultry-processing units for rent, there are several benefits to consider.
- Lower capital outlay.
- Renting a simple unit can give you an idea of what you might do differently if you were to build your own unit or small facility.
- Someone else owns the unit. Maintenance on the unit falls on someone else. That is one less chore to put into an already busy farm schedule.
- The unit is all there, set-up, and ready for use which can save time on a busy processing day.
- There are no storage problems with the equipment. You rent it, return it, and are done with it.
- Annual costs may be less than the annual cost of owning and maintaining your own unit.
- A rented processing unit can significantly shorten a processing day, versus doing the whole job by hand.
- A mobile processing unit can give many producers a clean, properly-designed area for processing and reduce the chances of food-product contamination.
There are a few disadvantages to consider.
- Availability is poor. Many regions no longer have such equipment for rent.
- You may not have the control you want for butchering dates. If you are processing turkeys or other fowl for the holidays, you may want the birds ready and frozen several weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Every other producer in the region may have the same plan, creating scheduling problems.
- Many owners of the units do not allow for or are not set-up to process waterfowl.
- Some producers found the actual cost to process, per bird, was more than what their local market would pay.
- Mechanical breakdowns. While the owner will generally pay for repairs which are not caused by misuse by the renter, producers who are many miles away from the owner, and have the unit breakdown in use, can find themselves in a dilemma on processing days.
Poultry Processing Equipment Rental – Three Real-Life Examples
Northern California Foothills Region: Nevada County Grown owns and operates a mobile processing unit operated in conjunction with the University of California, Cooperative Extension Service. It is an open-air unit on a flatbed trailer. A three-quarter ton pickup, or larger vehicle, is required when renting. According to Dan Macon, Cooperative Extension Livestock Advisor for the region, the unit saw only minor use last year and the future of the unit is uncertain at this point. Rental fees are $100.00 per day, Monday through Thursday, and $125 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Dan Macon (530) 273-4563)
North Carolina: Cornerstone Farm Ventures (previously located in upstate New York) has a small open-air processing trailer for rent. Equipped with four killing cones, a scalder, plucker, and work table, the unit rents for $85 per day. It is not equipped for turkeys or geese. It can handle chickens, guinea fowl, and also ducks, but ducks are not recommended because of plucking and pin-feather issues.
Jim McLaughlin (607)334-9962
Kentucky: Owned and operated by Kentucky State University, this mobile processing unit has been in operation for over 15 years. Kentucky has some of the strictest food handling laws in the nation so it is no wonder the unit is operated under very intense oversight. Supervised by Steven P. Skelton, the unit has never had an operational violation or citation for sanitation or compliance issues. Before a producer can use the unit, he or she must take a course in the unit’s operation and safe handling of the poultry products, from start to finish. The unit is not sent to individual farms; rather it is moved between three set docking stations, which are enclosed buildings with concrete floors and engineered septic-system disposal, all mandated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Producers bring the birds to the station and process them there under the supervision of Mr. Skelton. The unit is also equipped to process rabbits. Current price breakdown is approximately $134.50 to process 100 chickens or $122 to process 100 rabbits.
Steven Skelton (502) 597-6103
Have you had experience with poultry processing equipment rental? Please share your experiences below.