Licence Granted to Mobile Processing Unit

MONTANA, US - Small poultry producers can now use a mobile processing unit in the state, following a short training course.
calendar icon 20 July 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

The Mobile Processing Unit for poultry (MPU) is licensed and ready to pull up the driveways of small Montana producers, reports The Prairie Star. Inside the state-inspected processing truck, birds can be quickly prepared for sale right on site.

According to Jan Tusick, Program Manager for the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, Montana, this is the first time Montana poultry producers have had access to an MPU.

"It took us about a year and a half to build. We completed it six months ago and did a few test runs last season. Now it's ready to go," said Ms Tusick.

The truck has been inspected and approved for slaughter by the Montana Department of Livestock under the Federal 20,000 Bird Exemption Act. Ms Tusick explained the federal exemption has been in place since the 1940s to assist smaller producers get their meat onto the market.

It allows smaller producers to slaughter their birds under state inspection without the presence of a federal inspector on the slaughter floor. The exemption also allows small scale producers to slaughter and sell their own birds within the state of Montana.

Several organised efforts such as the Grow Montana Coalition HB, the work done during the 2005 Legislative Session, and private individuals have opened the doors for Montana producers by providing opportunities for the development of the MPU.

Through the concerted efforts of four organizations: Farms for Families, Lake County Community Development Corps's Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, the Alternative Energy Resource Organization (AERO), and the Montana Poultry Growers Cooperative, the state's first MPU has been built.

Funding partners included Montana Department of Agriculture, USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, and the Toledo Foundation.

"We've been working on this for three years," said Ms Tusick.

According the Mark Rehder, Executive Director of Farms for Families, who spearheaded the project, there is a lot of interest in growing birds across the state but no processing facility for smaller growers. This MPU answers that need.

"We also hope it will help small-scale, localized poultry production get started again in the state," said Mr Rehder.

The truck and trailer unit contain specialised, state-of-the-art equipment which meet all state and federal standards, according to the Prairie Star article.

Additionally, those who use the MPU – the grower and his crew – must undergo special training to ensure state and federal protocol and guidelines are followed. After completing the training and certification programme small producers will be able to sell the processed meat.

For years, small producers have gotten around the federal law by selling live birds, said Ms Tusick. The MPU allows the producers to prepare as many birds as they want for resale and have their product backed by state inspection and licensing.

The MPU will also allow small and family farms to sell locally raised chickens.

"There is a growing demand for local food and this unit will help producers meet that demand," Ms Tusick explained.

Before the unit can be used, the producer and his crew must receive training, which takes about half a day. They learn how to use the equipment and meet the safety, health and cleanliness standards required.

The unit consists of two sections, a big van unit and a trailer. The trailer holds the federally certified kill station, a commercial scalder, and a commercial drum plucker.

"It does a wonderful job," said Ms Trusick. The scalder has an automatic thermostat and a ramp. Once the chicken is dead and bled, it is placed on the ramp which submerges the bird. When it comes out the other side, it is scalded and ready for plucking by a commercial drum plucker.

From there the bird is moved into the van part of the unit, which is designed to keep flies away and is air-conditioned for comfort. There the final steps of processing are completed. The prepared chicken is then chilled to federal standards and bagged to be sold as 'fresh'; or bagged and then frozen.

In addition to the training, they need to use the federally inspected unit, producers also receive assistance on how to market their birds.

"There's nothing worse than to have 1,000 birds sitting in your freezer and no where to go with them," said Ms Tusick.

That is where her programme, Lake County Community Development Corps' Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, steps in.

"We help them figure out a business and marketing plan. We help them figure out not just how to raise their birds and process them, but where the market is and what they are going to do with them."

"We're really excited about this unit. It's the only one like it in the entire state. With this we can help Montana producers diversify their operations," concluded Ms Tusick.

Farms for Families is also involved by training interested persons how to grow and market food for a local system.

"We provide instruction on how they can do it," said Mr Rehder. The MPU is "just a first step," he said. "This is an on going project and process. It's a tool to get us toward the answer, which is small-scale, regionalised food processing. This MPU allows us to take all equipment and education they need right to their site."

A training programme to use the MPU is underway through funding from the USDA Risk Management Grant Program. The first training session will be held on 21 July in Glendive, Montana.

They are also scheduling training in October for turkeys. This year, the use of the facility will be free to all producers who qualify under the 20,000 Bird Exemption Act.

Next year, as they figure out the cost of operation, there may be a fee. Producers and crews can expect to process up to 200 birds a day using the unit, concludes the Prairie Star article.

To find out more about the training or the unit, producers can contact Ms Tusick at 406-676-5901.

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