Mobile abattoirs - viability and sustainability: report

The findings of a study carried out to determine whether or not mobile slaughter units (MSUs) would be viable in Scotland.

5.0 Stakeholder Engagement – Livestock Owners/farming Community

Box 3. Key Findings from the Farmer Engagement

There is significant interest and demand from a range of farmers for an MSU service, however detailed discussions with farmers indicate that the demand is for a local service (which could be provided by a MSU or small-fixed abattoir). The opportunity and challenge is to translate willingness demonstrated in the engagement to participation. However, it should also be stressed that the MSU models considered in this report are aimed at a small, niche market, involving the slaughter of circa 2,500 animals in a year (cattle and sheep), in a farming sector in Scotland which in 2018 had 1.8 million cattle and 6.6 million sheep[23].

Animal welfare, transport and limited options for private kill were often cited as reasons for considering an MSU. The most popular model identified involves the MSU docking at a central location for example a mart, in order to act as a hub site for a number of farmers. This is considered to be beneficial due to a range of factors which include: (i) decreased bio-security risks; (ii) shared infrastructure; (iii) ease of setting up waste disposal infrastructure; and (iv) the potential for significant levels of throughput and therefore enhanced economic viability.

5.1 Overview

Livestock owners, consisting of smallholders, crofters and farmers were engaged with to understand if there is a need and demand for an MSU service (for simplicity these stakeholders will be referred to as “farmers” in the rest of this section). The aim was to establish:

  • How farmers currently manage animals for slaughter.
  • How far animals travel and details of their closest private kill service.
  • Thoughts and opinions on an MSU service (if one was to be provided).
  • Practical considerations of using an MSU service.

The engagement with farmers took place using a number of different methodologies, as summarised below:

  • Structured surveys:
    • Telephone interviews with 18 farmers, using a detailed questionnaire.
    • Online, attitudinal survey, engaging 618 farmers.
  • Ad hoc discussions, in response to the above surveys, word of mouth and articles written about the project, published in various farming journals.
  • Meetings arranged as a result of the above discussions. These were held with farmers through the following:
  • National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) Orkney
  • Smallholding Scotland
  • NFUS Less Favoured Areas Group

Appendix 2 provides detailed information on the interviews and survey results, with the following sections providing a summary of the key findings.

5.2 Key Findings from the Telephone Interviews

An overview of the farmers interviewed in terms of livestock species, location, land area etc is provided in Appendix 2. It is important to note that 11 of the 18 questioned felt that MSUs could in theory be of benefit, whereas 7 felt that MSUs would not add value or were unsure about the value. There was particular interest from poultry farmers who felt that an MSU could be beneficial for poultry retail (poultry was outwith the scope of this project). Whilst generally positive in their outlook of MSUs, there were a range of considerations that were felt to be important to their viability. These are summarised below:

  • Several farmers commented on local abattoirs closing and how this has increased costs for those who now have to travel longer distances.
  • 9 farmers stated that there would be a need for good, reliable local butchers, with sufficient capacity including hanging space and chillers in all locations where the MSU stops, with good links between the butcher and the MSU.
  • The 5 pig farmers contacted all highlighted the requirement to de-hair pigs (boiling water dip tank (singer) and a scraping machine post-slaughter) and were concerned that an MSU may not offer this service.
  • 7 farmers raised concerns about waste disposal.
  • 6 farmers raised bio-security risks (particularly if travelling between farms).
  • 7 famers mentioned the economic viability of a potential MSU service (no economy of scale making it difficult to compete with larger, static enterprises).
  • 6 farmers indicated that farmers in more remote areas are less likely to finish stock due to the quality of the land and would be unlikely to change their business model.
  • A number of farmers raised similar issues regarding availability and capacity of the service and local retail outlets.

Four of the farmers expressed a preference for a local fixed abattoir, rather than a mobile unit for rural locations, the latter including the west coast, Orkney and the Isle of Skye.

5.3 Key Findings from the Online Survey

There were significant levels of support given for an MSU service from the respondents to the on-line survey. However, it was clear from the comments provided that respondents were supportive of a “local” abattoir service, regardless of whether this was mobile or a static service (see also Appendix 2 for details):

  • 552 (91%) of the 604 respondents said there would be customer demand for locally sourced, traceable meat arising from a mobile abattoir.
  • 538 respondents said that mobile abattoirs have the potential to provide their smallholding/croft/farm with a value-added service, by providing private kill and traceable meat products.
  • The most popular model for using an MSU involved it docking at a third-party location - 488 respondents indicating their interest in such a service (83%).

5.4 Engagement with Farming Organisations and Farmers

5.4.1 Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF)

The SCF was aware that members and the wider crofting community were interested in the research and therefore assisted in communicating that there was a survey available for smaller-scale farmers/crofters to give views on MSUs.

5.4.2 Smallholding Scotland

Smallholding Scotland believe that a local kill service is fundamental to smallholders being able to develop premium, high quality meat sales and farm shops. It was commented that “hosting MSUs at marts seem like the most sensible option”, with marts operated as docking stations, where waste disposal options are likely to be put in place. In addition there is the potential to incorporate chill stores, butchery units, penning, bedding, lairage and trailer cleaning infrastructure.

5.4.3 National Farmers Union Scotland - Less Favoured Area Working Group

At a meeting of the above group in Stirling (October 2019) the objectives of the mobile abattoir study were communicated to the attendees and feedback sought. In general the views given were cautious, with a number of issues raised, concerning: waste management, veterinary costs and the financials being made to stack up. There were also a number of concerns raised about the potential for biosecurity risks.

5.4.4 National Farmers Union Scotland, Orkney- Meeting in Kirkwall (four attendees)

The farmers felt that an MSU could provide a useful service for Orkney and could be organised to tie in reasonably effectively with the local Mart. A number of points were made, including:

  • A service to meet private kill demand for Orkney could be around 15 cattle per week (plus a number of sheep).
  • There are 5 butchers, 2 with good-sized storage facilities.
  • There are 3 prime sales per month, and this could perhaps be organised fortnightly, these being the best point in time for the MSU to be on-site at the mart, perhaps staying for 2 – 3 days.
  • The auction mart was discussed as the most viable docking station location. This would need chill facilities, and there was likely to be interest in discussing this.
  • It was mentioned that the local butchers were asked to participate in new abattoir infrastructure, but there was little interest.
  • Rare breed sheep is being sent from North Ronaldsay to Shetland at the moment for private kill.

5.5 Auction Marts

5.5.1 Overview

Three auction marts were contacted:

  • United Auctions (UA)
  • Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM)
  • Orkney Auction Mart

It is understood that ANM’s mart in Wick, Caithness, has auction sales on a Monday from August to November, with another three sales in the springtime (April). In addition to this there are weekly collections of animals throughout the year, for transport to the ANM Thainstone facility (near Aberdeen) for sale. This may be potentially significant in terms of an MSU operating model – there may be an opportunity to locate at sites where animals are gathered and sold. However, no responses from the above marts were provided with regards to questions asked about this.

5.5.2 Orkney Auction Mart

  • The Mart is extremely supportive of the MSU idea for Orkney, operating with the mart as a docking station with chill facilties – “definitely a very good idea.”
  • The butchers do not want to provide/manage abattoir infrastructure themdselves, so it needs someone to run with this.
  • The Orkney abattoir, just before closing, was being charged £56,000 per annum for the disposal of waste to Dundas in Dumfries and Galloway. Need to think about costs such as this. Having a local facility to take such waste would be a great development.
  • Although only operating part-time, for rates, the former abattoir was being charged the full rate of £60,000 per annum. This, plus the waste cost were major impacts on its viability.
  • 14,000 store catttle being sold from Orkney per annum.
  • There are around 12 to 15 farmers who finish on the island, and the local kill requirement may be circa 750 cattle per annum and the same for lambs[24]. At the moment there are significnt costs in getting meat from Dingwall back to Orkney for it to be sold under the Orkney brand (£200 per head, for the carcase to return).
  • Farmers are happy with the Dingwall service, but the Orkney Meat brand is important to those mentioned above.
  • Chill space is considered to be a challenge for most of the Orkney butchers and therefore having this at the mart, along with its lairage facilities would be considered a signficant benefit.

5.6 Ad Hoc Farmer Engagement

A number of farmers wanted to follow up on news and information read/received about the mobile abattoir feasibility study, and a summary of their thoughts and views is provided in Appendix 2. In general, the farmers were supportive of a MSU service.



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