Ranchers prod livestock co-op idea | RecordCourier.com

Ranchers prod livestock co-op idea

by Jo Rafferty

Carson Valley ranchers who attended a forum on how to form a livestock producers co-op, seemed encouraged, but wondered who would take the lead.

The workshop examined one way ranchers can get more meat sold in local outlets, eliminate the middleman and possibly save the agriculture industry in the Valley.

“I think it has tremendous potential,” said Valley rancher James Settelmeyer, one of 40 people, more than half of them ranchers, who attended a meeting Friday morning at Corley Ranch. “I think there’s a market, but we’re going to have to find somebody to make this happen. I don’t have the time, but I think some people do.”

The workshop was the brainchild of local rancher Lisa Lekumberry, who got her inspiration from a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture conference she attended in Carson City last year.

She organized several experts, including a Washington State farmer who developed a mobile slaughterhouse and university officials, to put on the event “Niche Livestock Marketing” workshop.

“It seemed like the time was right. It seemed like I had gotten a lot of positive feedback,” said Lekumberry.

Bruce Dunlop of Island Grown Farmers Co-op from Lopez Island Farm in Washington, who had spoken at the Carson City conference, gave a presentation on mobile slaughter houses.

Lopez Island had no slaughterhouse and farmers had to transport their cattle, sheep and hogs for miles.

The same thing has happened in Carson Valley, where urbanization forced a Gardnerville slaughterhouse to close more than 10 years ago.

“Now we have to go to Fallon to process our beef,” said Lekumberry.

Dunlop has overseen the construction of two self-contained slaughterhouse trailers, manufactured by Featherlite, Inc., and a Washington-based truck body company. The entire cost to create Dunlop’s mobile slaughterhouses was $150,000 each: $62,000 for the trailer, $16,000 for a truck to pull it, $20,000 for equipment, $13,000 for design and installation and $39,000 for testing, modifications and insurance.

Dunlop estimated it would cost a new co-op between $120,000-$200,000 to build a mobile slaughter house, compared to more than $400,000 to construct a permanent one.

Most of the funding for the Washington co-op came from grants, such as a rural development grant for testing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, and Dunlop suggested that Carson Valley ranchers apply for grants to get started.

Dunlop said they decided to go with a mobile unit after looking at two sites to build a slaughterhouse on and neighbors immediately surfaced saying, “not in my back yard.”

“We were amazed within 24 hours we had an organized opposition,” said Dunlop.

The 24-foot-long trailers have three compartments – mechanical, refrigeration and skinning areas, and can hold up to 6,000 pounds of meat, which equals 10 cows, 20 hogs or 70 lambs.

The meat is kept completely sterile throughout the process and the entire operation has been overseen by USDA, according to Dunlop.

Although it took the Lopez Island co-op six years to achieve its goal, now that the knowledge is available, Lopez thought it should take a lot less time.

Another benefit of a mobile slaughterhouse is that it is a lot less stressful to the animals, Dunlop said.

One drawback is that only about 10-15 head of beef can be slaughtered per day and a fixed processing plant can do a lot more.

Ranchers in Washington also save in cost by using the remains as compost and selling the hides for additional profit.

“It’s part of the revenue the co-op gets,” said Dunlop.

Co-ops in California and Hawaii have consulted with Dunlop and he is helping them design their own trailer units.

“I am consulting with other farm groups to help them rebuild their small farms,” said Dunlop.

Kynda Curtis, assistant professor and state specialist with the Department of Resource Economics at UNR spoke to the group about how they would go about marketing their products.

Curtis suggested creating a unique selling strategy such as Gardnerville-grown or organic meat. She said desirable outlets could be farmers’ markets, catering, Internet or mail-order or selling direct to restaurants.

“It looks like it may work,” said Gardnerville rancher Barbara Byington on a break during the meeting. “The bottom line is there are a lot of people who don’t like to buy on the open market.”

Sponsors of the Niche Livestock Marketing workshop included the Western Nevada Resource Conservation & Development Council, Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, University of Nevada cooperative Extension Douglas County, USDA Risk Management Agency, J.B. and Lisa Lekumberry and Ranch 1.

— Jo Rafferty can be reached at jrafferty@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.