Where’s the beef?

There are serious problems with the territory’s mobile abattoir. First among them, the cost of butchering animals.

There are serious problems with the territory’s mobile abattoir.

First among them, the cost of butchering animals.

The mobile unit is still in the test phase, but already local ranchers are balking at the cost of using it.

You’d think the government might have looked into this before sinking $175,000 into the venture.

Apparently not.

See, under the government’s current fee structure it can cost more than $300 to slaughter a single bison — and that doesn’t include the farmhands and other support costs, like digging a government-approved pit for the gut piles.

This will lead to significantly higher prices for a Yukon-made steak.

And that probably won’t fly.

“I don’t think restaurants and hotels will be willing to pay the extra price — it just remains to be seen,” said rancher Cliff LaPrairie.

“When a truck brings 30 tonnes of meat in from down south, how are you going to compete against it? You can’t.”

Archie Lang’s Energy, Mines and Resources department backed the project to leverage federal cash.

But, again, the Yukon was so fixed on finagling cash out of Ottawa that it seems to have neglected the business model.

There aren’t enough animals to keep the abattoir busy, said LaPrairie.

He’s got 150 head of bison, the largest herd in the territory.

Nobody else even comes close to raising that much livestock, which undermines the viability of the government’s slaughterhouse on wheels.

A farmer with 30 head might slaughter five a year, maybe, noted LaPrairie.

So, how do you keep the thing busy?

And there’s a reason there aren’t many cattle in the territory.

That is, there is a bigger bottleneck.

There’s no place to hang the carcasses.

And, surprisingly, the Yukon mobile abattoir did nothing to address this problem.

See, once slaughtered, a bison carcass has to cure for 21 days in a special humidity- and temperature-controlled cooler.

There are a several businesses in the territory that have such a facility, but they can only handle a couple of large animals at a time, said LaPrairie.

But, to be economically viable, a rancher would have to slaughter four or five a day.

So, basically, there is no place to hang the meat, said LaPrairie.

Which raises questions about the department’s business acumen.

The abattoir — essentially a whopping grant to the game-ranching community, a group with close ties to the government — is estimated to cost $30,000 a year.

It will probably far surpass that.

Private industry is unlikely to step up with the necessary investments to make the thing viable based on the current Yukon herds.

So the territory will have to kick in much more money to make its initial investment viable.

It’s a developing boondoggle.

One in a string from a government that prides itself on making decisions, regardless of the long-term costs or consequences. (RM)