Foothills Pilot Plant

Training and Education for Independent Poultry Producers in Western North Carolina

Small family farms and community leaders are supporting the development of the Foothills Pilot Plant, a small scale slaughtering and processing facility serving independent growers of poultry and rabbits. Based upon a feasibility study commissioned in 2006, a plan has been developed for establishment of this project in Marion NC, in partnership with the McDowell Economic Development Association (MEDA), McDowell County Government, independent growers, NCDA&CS, and NC State University´┐Żs College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS) and NCA&T University. As of January 2009, the project has received $636,000 in support for development. Major contributors include the North Carolina Golden LEAF Foundation, the North Carolina Rural Center, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

This project will serve small, diversified farms located primarily in the western half of the state with a strong interest in increasing production of poultry and rabbits through use of an inspected slaughter and processing facility. The western half of the state has the greatest unmet demand for access to a USDA- or state-inspected small-animal slaughter facility.

At least 30 small scale independent poultry and rabbit producers in the western NC region have expressed demand for access to inspected slaughter and processing services. These growers are dispersed among 15 counties, with McDowell County located in the center of the producer range.

These producers are currently unable to expand their businesses due to legal restrictions for growers not using state- or federally-inspected processing facilities. State law only allows up to 1,000 chickens or 250 turkeys to be processed and sold straight from a farm annually. The closest inspected plant serving independents is located in Kingstree, South Carolina, over 200 miles to the east. Most growers cannot handle the logistics of live bird transportation that far, and some who have tried have experienced high mortality rates.

This project pursues the following set of outcomes:

The establishment of slaughter and processing services for small meat animals in the region would likely substantially increase production among growers. Using data supplied only by existing small animal producers, research indicates an annual potential of 33,205 head of small animals processed at an inspected facility in its earliest stages of operation, with a retail value estimated at $377,000 per year. This represents a five-fold increase from current recorded production volumes.

 

Project implementation can be divided into two, equally crucial components: 1) physical site development and 2) organizational development.

Based on measured levels of producer demand and potential availability of funding, participants are developing a pilot plant for slaughter and processing of multiple species of poultry and rabbits with a maximum daily throughput of not more than 1,000 chickens per day. The project expects to build a ca. 3,000 square foot prefabricated building and thereafter complete interior build-out using local skilled labor. The design will meet regulatory requirements for every level of inspection, including USDA and state inspection.

Organizational development will be a process of establishing management policies and procedures, coordinating participation among multiple agencies, working with regulatory officials to meet and stay in compliance, and developing training curricula that can be applied from farm to slaughter to market. The project will incorporate comprehensive educational and training opportunities for growers engaged in independent small animal meat production, including flock management, live transportation, slaughter and processing, post-slaughter meat handling, and product marketing.

The pilot plant is expected to provide slaughtering services approximately twice weekly during its initial year of operation, with facility operations led by a paid general manager. Labor for processing can be sourced from the minimum security prison on a work-release program, until sufficient production volume is achieved to justify hiring full-time processing staff.

A management board will be appointed to oversee personnel and management decisions pertaining to the facility and its programs. Five members will be appointed to this board as follows:

 

After opening for services, most operating costs will be generated from market-based fees charged to farmers using the facility. It is expected that the facility will be completed by summer 2011.