SMALL-SCALE poultry farmers have been scrambling to find a processor after one of Victoria’s few abattoirs made the business decision to stop killing small lots.
West Melbourne poultry processor Golden Poultry recently stopped offering contract kill services for small-scale meat chicken farmers at its facility in Albion, near Sunshine, with managing director Henning Skallebaek telling the Weekly Times that small-scale jobs (300 birds or less) “slowed the slaughter process to unprofitable levels”.
Poultry farmer Simon van der Craats was left searching for an alternate abattoir after the decision.
For six to eight months of the year, Simon raises about 100 meat chickens at a time on leased land in Korumburra.
He started his business Korumburra Pastured Poultry two years ago, turning to Golden Poultry for his processing on the recommendation of another local poultry farmer.
Since then, Simon had been taking 100 chickens to Golden Poultry for processing every month, but he says when the time came to call and make a booking last month, he was simply told the facility was no longer processing small batches.
“They didn’t give me any notice and there was no explanation. They just suggested I go to Keysborough instead,” Simon said, explaining that Star Poultry at Keysborough, near Dandenong, is now the only abattoir in the state to offer contract processing.
“I was expecting to take my chickens to be processed the following week but I had to wait another week to get a booking at Star Poultry. I lost a couple of chickens as a result,” he says.
Simon says small-scale poultry farmers are now in a very precarious position.
“If they [Star Poultry] decide to turn away small-scale producers, we’re all gonna be stuck.”
He says farmers have been trying to come up with new ideas for small-scale processing, but that they face many prohibitive regulations.
“If the laws were a bit more reasonable, farmers could build hygienic processing facilities on their own properties for small batches,” he says.
“The problem is, the people that advise on the legislation have interests in big companies.
“It makes you think the politicians must be receiving funds from those companies so they can have an influence on decision making.”
Nadine Verboon, of Wattlebank Park Farm, St Clair, says Golden Poultry’s decision represents a wider problem for local small-scale farmers.
Wattlebank Park Farm produces free range eggs, cow’s milk for cheese, British white beef, lamb, and pork, and Nadine says local small-scale pork producers face similar challenges.
Nadine makes a four-hour round trip to Laverton twice a month to have five pigs processed at a time. She says her only other option is Orbost, an even longer trip.
“There’s virtually nothing for small-scale [farmers]. We’re all doing a lot of travelling. It’s all set up for large scale producers. There’s not the support for small to medium sized farms, [despite] all the effort we put into raising the animals,” she says.
“We need the government to stand up for us and not just for big corporations. There’s room for all size farmers, and we all need to be supported into the future. We all need to be recognised for our contributions to food and fibre production.”
Like Simon, Nadine supports the idea of on-farm micro or mobile abattoirs, such as the prototype currently being built by Woodend farmer Ben Falloon, and will be closely following his and other trials.
“We’ll see how it plays out and if it’s going to be a viable option. We’re actively looking for a solution,” she says.
Co-founder of the Prom Coast Food Collective (PCFC) and former president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance Sally Ruljancich says “there are a whole lot of great farmers who are very insecure in their positions”.
With her husband Colin, Sally raises organic, grass-fed beef and lamb on a 32-hectare farm at Dollar and says “if Radfords in Warragul decided next week to go export only, you would lose almost all local meat. I’m not suggesting that they will, but it shows you the lack of security we have as small producers”.
“What we desperately need in this area of Victoria is a community owned small-scale multi-species abattoir. But it’s highly, highly regulated and very expensive to do the basics in Australia,” Sally says.
“If the regulations were scale appropriate then we would have more of a chance of getting together and having a small cooperatively run abattoir.”
Amelia Bright, also a co-founder of PCFC and a small-scale producer, farming pasture-raised pork in Fish Creek, says the government should make it easier for people to open micro abattoirs.
“There’s a lot of funding and assistance for people that are looking to move into the export market,” she says. “But one of the reasons we started the PCFC was to have a thriving, strong local economy. And to really have the full circle for that local economy, you need the abattoir, instead of all of us travelling for extended periods of time.”