Custom processing: Panel shares viewpoints from a custom processing operation during YF&R Conference
During the Wyoming Farm Bureau’s (WyFB) Young Farmers & Rancher’s (YF&R) Conference in Douglas Jan. 15-16, WyFB President Todd Fornstrom sat down with Logan and Kesly Ellis, the owners of Henderson Meat Processing, to discuss the meat processing business and challenges processors face.
The Ellis’ bought Henderson Meat Processing, located in Lyman, in 2018. The plant processes beef, hogs and lambs year-round, as well as wild game during hunting season.
Selling retail beef
Henderson Meat Processing sells some retail beef, although Logan notes they haven’t had retail beef in their cooler for roughly a year.
“We do retail, but the retail animals have to be slaughtered in a federal facility,” Logan says. “Retail animals are shipped to us for processing from a federally inspected plant in Utah.”
Kesly shares selling retail beef has been a challenge. Many customers don’t plan for the initial cost of quarters and halves of animals, and some even prefer to get set amounts of ground beef and steaks.
“It gets hard when you’re pre-selling retail animals because people want to separate animals into smaller packages than quarters and halves,” she explains.
During the panel discussion, the Ellis’ brought up creating partnerships with producers to schedule retail slaughter processing to keep meat products on their shelves year round and help producers sell cattle.
Processing directly marketed animals
Direct-marketed animals make a large share of the business, Logan and Kesly explain. In fact, Henderson Meat Processing, like many small packing plants across Wyoming and the U.S., are booked through 2021 with animals from producers and their customers.
However, custom processing comes with its own challenges.
“Our operation is a custom plant, meaning we are not federally or state inspected,” Kesly notes. “Because of this, when we process animals, they must be sold to customers who bought directly marketed meat from the producer before being processed.”
While the Ellis’ could make the switch to have Henderson Meat Processing be a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected facility, the lack of federal inspectors in the area on top of the possibility of inspectors shutting down production, is what deters them from making the move.
“Another part of the issue we face is inspectors might only be able to come to the plant one day during the week,” says Logan. “When the plant needs to slaughter and process five or six animals during the week, dedicating one day to federal or state inspected animals cuts into total productivity.”
Because of the animal shares amendment in the Freedom Food Act, custom processors will have federal inspectors in their plants.
Fornstrom shares he has heard this concern from many small processors in the state, as well as the concern of federal inspectors performing inconsistently and refusing to allow processing on matters not related to safety or sanitary conditions.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.