Small flock owners faced an uncertain business dilemma last month when Cool Hand Meats in Marion, the only small poultry processor in the state, closed its doors. This left many small poultry growers who relied on the processor with no processing options.
“A lot of small poultry growers raise only what they have presold for the holiday season,” said Dr. Beth Yongue, director, Meat and Poultry Inspection Division. “The closing of this plant left them with the next closest processor still taking new customers in Bowling Green, Ky.”
There are limited options for independent poultry producers in the United States, with only 19 small-poultry plants operating across the country.
“Because of the demand for birds over the upcoming holiday season, we are granting short term exemptions to poultry-exempt operators, allowing them to slaughter or process another persons’ poultry,” Yongue said. Exemptions will be granted through Dec. 31 by the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division on a case-by-case basis.”
Poultry-exempt operators that want to offer their services and equipment to slaughter must also contact Dr. Yongue, who will issue a letter authorizing their services as a processor.
Other options for small poultry growers is renting a mobile poultry processing unit. Six units are available across the state:
• Darby Farms, Union Mill: Daniel Dover, 678-617-3468
• Windy Bottoms Farm, Orange County: John Frank, 919-304-1151
• N.C. State Cooperative Extension, Harnett County Center: Brian Parrish, 919-893-7530
• Appalachian State University: Todd Rudicill, 336-877-3455
• Tar River Poultry Initiative, LLC Franklin County: Julie Gupton, 919-414-3759
• Triple G Farm: Ryan Groesser, 252-813-8450
“We hope another facility will come forward to meet the needs of our small poultry farmers,” Yongue said. “The exemption to process other’s birds will help them through their busy season.”
The NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Inspection Division inspects poultry-exempt operators. A person may raise, process and slaughter up to 20,000 birds in one calendar year under NCDA&CS-issued poultry-exempt status. The department inspects these operators regularly for sanitary standards, handling procedures, labeling and accurate record-keeping. Poultry products produced under the poultry-exempt status may only be sold within the state. There are 194 poultry-exempt operators in North Carolina.
Unlike meat handlers, which are required to register by state law, a poultry-exempt operator is a voluntary registration. “When a poultry grower contacts our Meat and Poultry Inspection Division about these exemptions, we visit and take educational materials, explain labeling requirements, review safe handling and sanitation practices and answer questions,” Yongue said. “We want to proactively help these farmers with their small businesses.”
The division regularly checks meat and poultry in commerce for proper labeling and safe handling. “If we see a product in commerce that’s not labeled or packaged properly, it’s a compliance issue and we will follow up with the producer regardless of registration status. The poultry exempt program is geared to help farmers before the product is sold to restaurants, grocery stores or at farmers markets.”
For more information on the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division visit www.ncagr.gov/meatpoultry/ or call 919-707-3180.