Mike Thomas/Yukon News The government’s mobile abattoir will be operated by Tum Tum’s Black Gilt Meats.

Local company wins Yukon’s mobile abattoir contract

The service allows local farmers to slaughter livestock in an inspected facility

The Yukon agriculture branch has granted the contract to operate the mobile abattoir to Tum Tum’s Black Gilt Meats.

The contract came up for competition earlier this spring. Tum Tum’s has been the operator in previous years.

“They’re operating under the new contract but they’re not new operators,” said agriculture development officer and meat inspection supervision Jesse Walchuk. “It’s nice because it provides some consistency (for farmers), without any disruption in service because we don’t need to train someone new.”

The mobile abattoir service allows local farmers to slaughter their livestock on their own property in an inspected facility so they can be legally sold according to government standards.

Farmers can contact the abattoir, book an appointment and have the unit show up on site, where a trained animal health technician inspects the animal before and after slaughter, said Walchuk. After slaughter, the animal is cooled and either sold farm gate — a private sale done on the farm, often within the community — or shipped to a butcher for wrapping and retail sale, Walchuk explained.

In accordance with government health regulation, meat that is not professionally slaughtered and inspected is not eligible for retail beyond the farm gate.

While there are other mobile abattoirs in Canada, the Yukon is the only place where the service is publicly owned, said Walchuk. Having an abattoir come to you creates “incredible teaching opportunities,” because it allows farmers to be directly involved in the final, full cycle process of raising livestock, he said.

“Having an inspector right there provides a private situation for farmers to be educated about the quality of their product,” Walchuk said. “Most livestock owners in the Yukon take a lot of care and pride in raising those animals… we want farmers to have the full feedback on any health or possible issues with their animals.”

In 2016, the agriculture branch released its local food strategy for the Yukon, with a strong emphasis on in-territory farming and food production. Having a service like this is an important part of local agriculture sustainability, Walchuk said, as well as being a valuable community connection.

This year, for the first time ever, the unit went up to Dawson City, where it was used to process eleven hogs from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in teaching farm, as well as four domestically raised wild boar. The TH animals were butchered and processed and then distributed to TH citizens, and some of the wild boar was retained by a local business to make charcuterie and other meat products for the community to purchase.

“The trickle-down of bringing (the mobile abattoir) up there, to the community, is amazing,” he said.

This isn’t just good for hungry people and farmers, but for the animals too, said Walchuk. Prior to this, farmers in Dawson had to ship their animals to Whitehorse and then have them shipped back up after they had been slaughtered. Trucking animals to slaughterhouses — especially long distances — instead of slaughtering on the farm can cause the animal more fear and stress, so the mobile unit is actually a much better end for them, Walchuk said.

“We try to do everything we can to reduce the stress on the animal,” he said. “Most Yukon animals have never been in a truck before…. Having (the unit) come to the farm is better for them, in a way.”

The unit is consistently in more demand each year, said Walchuck, which he said he thinks is evidence of the growing farming community and demand for locally-raised meat. In 2016, the unit processed 188 animals, up from 152 in 2015 and 87 in 2014. Pigs were the most commonly raised animal in 2016, at 109 processed, followed by 55 head of cattle and 19 farm-raised wild boar and five farm-raised elk.

Appointments for the unit must be made at least 30 days in advance, but the the branch also recently set up a new online booking system to make it easier and more convenient to use. The facility operates three days a week during the summer and five days a week when need ramps up in the fall, from late August to November.

While the unit is popular, there have been problems with it in the past, including a lack of trained inspectors and backup inspectors. This caused unexpected delays in slaughter, which caused problems for some farmers who had retail contracts which they were unable to meet. Walchuk said this issue has been resolved.

“There were concerns raised in previous years that we didn’t have enough available and in time,” Walchuk said, adding that this issue was resolved in April 2017.

“We now have back- up inspectors for our back-up inspectors,” he said with a laugh.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com