Consider the mobile abattoir

It’s 9 a.m. on a brisk November morning. The six little pigs who’ve been running around my yard all summer are confined to the squeeze pen, all grown up into 50-kilogram hogs.

It’s 9 a.m. on a brisk November morning. The six little pigs who’ve been running around my yard all summer are confined to the squeeze pen, all grown up into 50-kilogram hogs.

It’s slaughter day on the farm, and the mobile abattoir is just backing up beside the pens. A gleaming fifth-wheel trailer, the abattoir comes equipped with its own power and water, and everything required to butcher my hogs.

Today it also comes with two skilled operators, private contractor Caine Vangel and the Yukon government’s agricultural development officer, Kevin Bowers, whom Caine has assured me is “great with pigs.”

It turns out that in addition to being a civil servant, Bowers is also a farmer. “Like yourself, I raise pigs, have for a number of years,” he says.

The Yukon government’s mobile abattoir is now seven years old. “It came about in response to research work that the Yukon Agriculture Association did,” Bowers explains. “The mobile abattoir we have in the Yukon is modeled after one that was built for a farming co-operative in Washington state.” Farmers were looking for a way to bring government inspected meat to market.

The abattoir was unveiled at the Fireweed Farmers Market in August of 2006, with tours for the public. Then resources minister Archie Lang expressed the hope that it would “increase the amount of commercially available, locally grown, government inspected beef, bison, pork and elk for sale in Yukon.” He also expected that after five years, the government would be able to stop funding the program and let producers cover the costs. But farmers saw things differently.

“It should be free,” bison farmer Cliff LaPrairie told News reporter Genesee Keevil at the time. “It costs us $100 an animal … and his mileage in and his mileage back, plus $70 hour to clean up and everything.

“We normally do it ourselves and we’re standing around here and I still have to pay my hired hand and we can’t touch the animals.”

Today, it seems the farmers have won. I’m paying nothing to have my hogs butchered in a far more professional way than I’d ever manage myself. When it’s all done, they will be stamped for commercial use and transported to the Deli to be cut and wrapped.

I ask Bowers how it came about that there’s no fee for this service. It all came down to the contractor, he explains.

“We put out proposals to provide a contracting service to operate the abattoir, and included in that was a request to provide a schedule of slaughter fees, mileage fees, and that kind of thing, and so that’s what we saw for the first six years. In this past year, we followed a similar process … and the successful contractor was innovative in his proposal. The bid is separated into two elements, a monthly retainer fee and a fee to producers. In this case (Vangel) weighted it toward the monthly fee. In fact there’s no cost to producers for this year.”

But why did the government accept a proposal that put the burden of cost on the public purse, and not on the farmer? “It was an opportunity to make the unit more attractive to individuals to experiment, to try the unit. You’re an example, I would suggest, of a producer that took advantage of the free services that we’re offering this year. There were at least two or three other producers that now have something to compare with the way they’ve done their slaughter work in the past.”

He’s right. I’m hooked. Butchering hogs the way I’ve done it in the past, with a come-along on a log tripod, is a huge, messy, exhausting job. Six hogs that would have taken me two days, disappear one-by-one into the trailer, tidy gut piles appear at the side door for me to whisk away, and 12 perfect sides of pork hang in the cooler.

The meat is government stamped, my hogs didn’t have to endure a long and terrifying trip to the slaughter, and the whole operation took a bit more than three hours.

I ask what’s in the abattoir’s future. “I’m hoping that the producers who used it for the first time this year will consider continuing to use it in the future,” says Bowers, “whether it’s free or whether there’s a fee for service.”

A small blood stain in the snow is all that remains of the summer’s pigs. My meat’s on the way to the butcher and my back doesn’t hurt. At the end of the easiest day of slaughtering I’ve ever seen, I’m already considering the abattoir for next year.