Mobile slaughterhouse coming to island

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With 83 percent of its beef and a whopping 95 percent of its pork, lamb and goat products being imported, Hawaii Island’s meat production is a long way off from the ideals of the sustainability movement.

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With 83 percent of its beef and a whopping 95 percent of its pork, lamb and goat products being imported, Hawaii Island’s meat production is a long way off from the ideals of the sustainability movement.

The reason, Big Isle ranchers say, is because they have long had to wrestle with high costs, foreign competition, and a bottleneck when it came to the availability of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughter services.

But a new cooperative venture, Hawaii Island Meat, or HIM, will soon be bringing the slaughter to the livestock, and not the other way around. A mobile unit capable of processing pigs, sheep, goats and cattle will begin operations, servicing small livestock businesses in early 2016, according to a Thursday press release from The Kohala Center, a member of the task force that worked to make the unit a reality.

Among its preparations, the task force conducted a study to assess the feasibility of a mobile slaughter unit. The results of that study were made available in September 2014.

“The study found clear demand from producers, with 90 percent of those surveyed interested in using the unit and 70 percent committed to investing their own money in the project,” reads the release.

All told, about 35 or 36 small producers on Hawaii Island expressed interested in the co-op, and more may come on board as word of the service gets out, said Dana Shapiro, a sustainable rural development consultant and project manager for the island’s mobile slaughter initiative.

The producer-owner cooperative will bring slaughter services directly to ranches and regional docking sites around the island via a 36-foot, three-section trailer, purchased with $220,000 in funding from the state Department of Agriculture.

“There’s three compartments inside it,” she said. “Just the mechanical storage area, which houses the generator and a water tank and stuff, and then the middle compartment is the processing compartment, and I believe that’s 12 feet long, and that’s where the animals are basically cleaned and eviscerated. The slaughter takes place outside the unit, and then the animals are winched into the unit for processing. And then the back compartment is the cooler, and that’s a 14-foot-long cooler. That can hold up to two full processing bays of throughput.”

In total, about 16 cattle, 30 pigs, or 60 sheep and goats can be processed by the unit in two full days of operation, Shapiro said. The mobile slaughter van would operate with a head butcher and assistant butcher. Organizers are also considering having different butchers assigned to different regions who would take over once the unit arrives in their area.

Users of the service would sign up to become partners, and would share in dividends at the end of the year that are broken up according to who used the service the most, she explained.

In addition to benefiting island producers, the system should also start paying off for consumers on Hawaii Island, who are expected to see an influx of locally produced meats at area restaurants, farmers markets and grocery stores.

“This project’s business model is based on providing local, hand-crafted, all-natural meat products,” Shapiro said.

In recent years, the idea of these mobile slaughter units has caught on around the country. Currently, about 25 of them are operating around the nation, she said.

“Not only will the mobile slaughter unit help to revitalize family ranching operations on Hawaii Island, it will increase the amount of healthy, locally grown protein available to our communities, and can be part of the solution to reduce the island’s population of feral and invasive cattle, pigs, sheep and goats,” said Melanie Bondera, cooperative business development specialist at The Kohala Center. “Locally produced meats are also in high demand by island residents, visitors, and gourmet chefs, so the increased availability will contribute positively to farm-to-fork programs and our local economy.”

Hawaii Island Meat will host two informational workshops for producers interested in accessing the service from 5 to 6 p.m. May 17 at the Komohana Agricultural Research Station in Hilo at 875 Komohana St., and from 5 to 6 p.m. June 14 at the Pahala Community Center at 96-1149 Kamani St.

In addition to The Kohala Center, project partners include the Big Island Resource Conservation & Development Council, and the Hawaii Small Business Development Center.

For more information, visit hawaiiislandmeat.com or email hawaiiislandmeat@gmail.com.

Livestock Farms on Hawaii Island, circa 2010 Census

Cattle:

680 farms totaling 108,093 cows

Hog and Pig:

70 farms totaling 1,350 hogs/pigs

Meat Goats:

128 farms totaling 2,675 goats

Estimated Animals that would be processed by the unit per year

Cattle 399 head

Sheep 488 head

Goat 695 head

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Pig 207 head

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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