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Vertically Integrated Meat

Vertically Integrated Meat

This slaughterhouse comes to you.

A butcher shop out of Bemidji is taking an entirely different approach to “mobile solutions.” As a means to trim out the markup charged by slaughterhouses and wholesalers, Stittsworth Meats is building what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a mobile slaughter unit (MSU).

The facility—essentially a semi-truck back end outfitted with slaughtering gear—will be the first of its kind in Minnesota, according to the USDA. However, butcher shop owner Mychal Stittsworth claims the operation is doing more than setting a precedent. “It’s the first in the country that’s going into a vertically integrated business,” he says, “considering I’ll own a retail store, a meat manufacturing site and now this.”

Traditionally, mobile slaughtering has been a facet of farmer co-ops, particularly on the West Coast. A product of the farm-to-fork movement, MSUs first appeared a decade-and-a-half ago in Washington state where restaurants and farms were experimenting with ways to improve the freshness and quality of locally sourced meat.

Starting out, Stittsworth estimates his MSU will turn out approximately 17,000 pounds of beef and/or pork in an eight-hour day. When the unit is certified to operate early next year, it will run about two days a week. “That will take care of half of what we need currently to run our retail and wholesale businesses,” he says. “Eventually, within a couple years, we plan on moving completely to locally raised product [versus none today].”

Both Stittsworth Meats and the farmers who raise the animals he slaughters are expecting to pad their bottom line. With an MSU, Stittsworth claims the shop avoids about five middlemen: a sales barn, slaughterhouse, wholesaler and at least two rounds of transportation. Using beef as an example, Stittsworth says he’d normally have to pay about $4.50 a pound when buying from a slaughterhouse. But with an MSU, he instead incurs costs of $1.20 a pound from a nearby farm. Farmers, on the other hand, will receive about 15 percent more than selling to a slaughterhouse. The reason, Stittsworth says, is transport and slaughterhouse stress usually degrades the quality of meat, reducing its value.

“Hundreds of farmers have already come up to me talking about how awesome they think this is,” Stittsworth says. “I’m just worried about figuring out how to keep them all in the loop—that way they’re not discouraged if I can’t make it to them right away.” —Sam Schaust