A beef slaughterhouse in Nevada County? Maybe | TheUnion.com

A beef slaughterhouse in Nevada County? Maybe

Local rancher Jim Gates wants to build a slaughterhouse to process beef in Nevada County to save on growing transportation costs and sustain local agriculture.

But the sheer cost of building such a facility, the volume of animals needed, public acceptance and the federal permitting required are hurdles standing in his way.

Regardless, Gates sees no other choice.

“It’s just a matter we do it, or we don’t survive,” Gates said.

Gates delivers beef raised the old fashioned way to BriarPatch Co-op several days a week. Though his business has grown considerably since he began in 2005, so have his transportation costs to send cows to Orland twice a month for slaughter. He has chosen to eat those costs instead of raise his prices and risk a loss in sales.

“It’s transportation costs that are killing everybody,” Gates said.

The rugged cowboy has his eye on a piece of property that he says would be ideal for a slaughterhouse inside the county. He hopes to make a legitimate offer on the property by year’s end.

A slaughterhouse would require $5 million and 4,000 cows to get USDA approval, Gates estimates.

That’s more cows then the entire county has to offer, so a marketing campaign would be required to draw cattle from surrounding counties and Reno, said farm advisor Roger Ingram, who analyzed the economics of a local facility with Dan Macon, owner of Flying Mule Farm and former head of the Nevada County Land Trust.

“Looking at those numbers, it’s a hard row to hoe. It’s not to say it couldn’t be done,” Ingram said. Besides the capital investment, such a facility would require a full time manager.

After obtaining a use permit through the county’s planning department, the federal government would more than likely get involved. Since the 1970s when state money for meat inspection was butchered, national entities took over, narrowing the pool of small facilities in rural settings, Ingram said.

“They’re few and they’re far between,” Ingram said.

The county would probably regulate water and sewer resources, said Wesley Nicks, director of environmental health for the county.

“A septic system would be pretty tough for waste water and blood and that sort of thing,” Nicks said.

Solids would have to be trapped and shipped to a rendering plant, something that could upset neighbors if centered in the wrong location.

“There certainly could be a nuisance issue,” Nicks said.

Gates is pursuing a smaller plant and a USDA rule governing poultry that allows processing of less than 20,000 chickens without on-site federal inspectors.

Gates figures a facility processing a maximum of 1,000 cows would only require $1.5 million for construction.

A mobile poultry processor that local farmers can rent will be available in one to two months in Nevada and neighboring counties, said Ingram. So far, about five poultry producers have shown interest.

“I think that number is really going to grow,” Ingram said.

If a processing facility were available for beef, lamb, sheep and rabbits, the local food movement would take a step to the next level, said David Vertin, president of Nevada County Resources Conservation District.

“It could be huge if there was a legal way to do it. There’s lots of little organic farmers that want to be doing more,” Vertin said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

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