What’s been going on!
The end of an era and a sad day. A quiet collapse of part of our local food system rippled through the area last week. Chaudhry’s Halal Meats in Siler City, who has run the only local independent poultry processing plant since 2008, announced he was throwing in the towel and closing. He will keep his profitable red meat plant open but despite building a state of the art poultry plant there were not enough birds going through it to keep it open. This will probably be the last time we will see an independent poultry processing plant operating in the Piedmont of North Carolina.
What happened? You may remember that when we first began raising turkeys in 2003 there was a small poultry processing plant between Pittsboro and Siler City who had been in business for a few years, struggling to make a go of it. In the fall of 2005 they announced they were going to close just as the Thanksgiving season was approaching. We quickly formed a group to take over the plant to at least run it through the end of the year. In the end we formed a cooperative, Growers Choice, and we fought a losing battle for nearly two years to keep the plant running and get enough birds on the ground to make it profitable. Between the condition of the plant, the USDA, and not enough birds we closed down operations as Chaudhry announced he was going to build a new plant.
We thought “great you run the plant and Growers Choice will work on increasing the number of local birds being raised”. In the long run two things happened. Farmers are independent sorts and really don’t work together well, we could not get them to cooperate to even buy feed in bulk, which would dramatically reduce their production costs. The other change was loosening of the self-processing rules that allowed people to process more birds on their own farms without USDA inspection; most of the new growers of chickens now process their own. Only those growers who raised a lot of chickens or turkeys would take them to Chaudhry’s, it was not enough. I will say that Abdul Chaudhry and his folks did a good job and he kept the plant open longer than was economically feasible made only possible by having his other plant next door to absorb some of the costs and employees.
What will happen next? The next closest plant is now in 3 hours away in Marion, no one I know will drive their birds that far; so for many, including us, it is the end of their pastured poultry operations, especially turkeys. Some may begin self-processing their own chickens because they are relatively faster and easier to do than other birds but will do them in smaller numbers than they did before. All of the turkey producers I have talked to have indicated that they will not be raising turkeys. Few people self-process more than a few turkeys because they are heavy and much more work than chickens. So savor that rare local pasture raised chicken you see at the Farmers’ Market and be prepared to go back to a Butterball turkey or have one shipped in from someplace else. For us it is certainly the end of a long experiment but we will not be raising turkeys this year and probably never again.
Picture of the Week
We finally got the last of the Big Tops covered on Monday, now the top of the hill looks more normal
What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading