Keeping It Local With a Mobile Poultry Processing Unit

A mobile poultry processing unit, like the one operated through the Kitsap Poultry Growers Cooperative, helps small farmers both keep it local and save money.

| July/August 2014

  • Free-range turkeys with plenty of grass live the good life.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Rehlik
  • Members can rent equipment, like this plucker.
    Photo by Lauren Turner
  • Looking into the MPPU, its purpose is revealed.
    Photo by Lauren Turner
  • The work tables are kept spotless.
    Photo by Lauren Turner

For many farmers, raising poultry is an attractive and marketable option. Not only does poultry require relatively little space, the birds also reach market size fairly quickly. How does that food get to the plate exactly? This is where the challenge sets in: How to process the birds for sale in a manner that allows the greatest benefit for both grower and consumer.

Your average small-scale poultry farmer has two options to get her product to market: on-farm processing or traveling to an off-farm slaughter facility. Because slaughter facilities are out of reach of many small farmers, some chicken farmers simply have no choice but to process their birds on site. State restrictions, however, may limit sales of animals slaughtered on the farm to on-farm sales, as well as the number of birds that may be sold annually.

Many producers thus choose to transport their animals to distant slaughter facilities for the additional sales opportunities it provides. But farmers who transport their birds can lose as much as 15 percent of their flocks due to transportation stress, and they pay a high price for having their birds processed in those facilities.

However, an alternative processing option has many producers joining forces and sharing a mobile poultry-processing unit (MPPU) that comes straight to the farm. While MPPUs range from open-air equipment placed on a trailer to completely contained units, farmers who are fortunate enough to have access to a full-sized, certified mobile poultry unit — such as the one run by The Kitsap Poultry Growers Cooperative (KPGC) in western Washington — have all the amenities of the slaughterhouse brought right to the farm: saving on processing fees, fuel, stress to the birds, and more.

Because the USDA delegates the oversight of poultry processing to state agriculture departments for intrastate sales, laws governing MPPUs vary by state. Working within the regulations set forth by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the Kitsap co-op’s MPPU offers producers the opportunity to not only share the cost of the facility with other producers, but also to upgrade to the WSDA food processor license by using the MPPU as their certified processing facility. This allows farmers to sell both frozen birds and cut pieces at farmers’ markets and to local grocery stores and restaurants. Without the food processor license, growers in Washington are limited to selling fresh, whole birds from on-farm processing directly to consumers within 48 hours of slaughter.

The KPGC formed in 2009, guided largely by the leadership of founding members Stuart Boyle and his partner Michele Gilles. The mission was simple yet vital: “To support, educate and advocate for producers and consumers of sustainable, locally grown poultry.” Jerry Darnall was the co-op’s first president from 2009 to 2011; Boyle has served in that position since 2011. Not all founding members were farmers. Sixty-five consumer members made small donations to start the cooperative.



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