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January 27, 2012

Sold! Middlesex Farmers Snap up Mobile Slaughter Unit

Resizedimage300225-rabbitsIt’s official. The that mobile poultry processing unit we first wrote about two weeks ago has sold to the highest bidders — in this case, Lila Bennett and David Robb of Tangletown Farm in Middlesex. Bennett and Robb logged the winning bid in an online auction at $61,000. That’s a pretty penny, but it's also 65 percent of the original $93,000 price tag that the state paid for the mobile slaughterhouse in 2008.

Bidding on the slaughterhouse ended on January 13 but the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets announced the official sale Thursday after mulling over the final bid. In a press release, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said the agency is happy with the selling price, and will be reinvesting the money earned through the sale into the meat processing industry in Vermont. Farmers have long identified meat processing as a weak link in the growing local foods industry in Vermont, saying that the few inspected slaughter facilities in the state are overbooked or too far away.

The Bennett-Robb family, with kids Sam, Willa and Governor in tow, just happened to be checking out the slaughterhouse-on-the-go at the same time I swung by the state office complex in Waterbury to take a look myself. Bennett and Robb are full time farmers, but they also farm predominantly on leased land, which means making capital investments can be a tricky proposition. 

That’s partially why investing in a mobile unit made sense for the family. As farmers who used the mobile poultry unit when it was in operation under state ownership, Bennett and Robb say they understand the need for consistency, efficiency and humane treatment for animals. They also hope the slaughterhouse will allow them to expand their business, and plan to slaughter and package chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and eventually lambs — all with a stamp of approval from a ride-along state meat inspector.

Bennett and Robb plan to keep the trailer on the road, providing processing services to other producers who want to butcher poultry on their farms. Since the state rolled out the unit in 2009, more than 30 farmers used the service for inspected slaughter. Now Tangletown Farm is working with the Vermont Farm Viability program to draw up a business plan to keep the trailer running.

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