On August 28th, 2015, over a dozen individuals and organizations met at Alleghany Meats in Monterey, Virginia, to learn how the 3-year-old slaughter/processing/packing facility works. The tour group was led through each step of the business, which is a USDA-Inspected Facility. This tour was made possible by a grant from the Central Appalachian Network to The Coalition’s Meat Working Group, partnering with the Natural Capital Investment Fund and the Value Chain Cluster Initiative.
Once animals arrive at Alleghany Meats, they are unloaded into a series of pens that will eventually lead to the slaughter room. These pens actually predate the facility, and have been reconfigured several times over the years for efficiency and USDA Inspection purposes. Individual pens include a USDA inspecting pen, and a pen where animals can be evaluated for health. According to USDA rules, any animal that stands for more than half an hour has to have water available.
The pens include a certified scale, which is also used by local residents to weigh animals. These weigh-ins happen on days the kill floor is not in operation.
Alleghany Meats can process buffalo, and they have a buffalo chute for a more controlled entrance to the slaughter floor.
The slaughter fees at Alleghany Meats (see side bar) are based on time and the cost of rendering. Hides are saved and sold when they reach a certain level. Slaughtering usually happens the same day that animals arrive, but rarely, animals will come from a long distance and be in the pen overnight, however, leaving animals overnight is not ideal. Additionally, the logistics of coordinating arrivals is a challenge: when there are no-shows, or unexpected weather events, the plant operates at a loss.
Animals are led from the outside pens into the knockbox, where the animal is stunned and killed. The box is adjustable, with a split door allowing for different sizes of animals, all the way from lamb to buffalo. The heavy top bar on the box prevents buffalo from causing issues.
After an animal is slaughtered, it’s raised up by its back legs to bleed. Blood is collected and later sent to a rendering company called Valley Protein – the septic system onsite is not set up to handle large quantities of blood. After bleeding, the spine and brain are removed and inspected. Animals over 30 months old are considered high-risk for Mad Cow Disease (which, we note, has an extremely low occurrence rate in the United States. There have been 4 confirmed cases in beef since 2003.)
If an animal is over the age of 30 months, cutting precautions may be taken, and the producer will lose some of the more profitable cuts.
After decapitation, the animal is placed in a cradle where it is skinned, eviscerated, inspected again, and placed on the high rail system for more trimming, inspections, and washing. The meat is washed with 120º water, rinsed, stamped with USDA certification, and promptly placed in a cooler.
Not all producers are interested in USDA certification, and Alleghany Meats can slaughter animals without a USDA inspector on site and label them not-for-sale. However, the facility must be completely cleaned between certified and non-certified products, which typically takes 1.5 hours.
With a two man crew, Alleghany Meats can kill 7 steer in one day.
Animals are moved to the flash cooler after slaughter, then moved to an aging cooler and hung for a maximum for 14 days. This cooler, while small, can still hold nearly 50 steer, although usually has much less. When we arrived, the cooler was stashed with beef, hogs, and lamb.
A door from the cooler opens into the processing room floor, where a 5 person crew breaks down and packages different cuts of meat according to the producers desires. Trims from cuts of meat were periodically put into a grinder to make ground products. Cuts were bagged and tagged, and placed into vacuum sealers along the wall.
Alleghany Meats offers basic packaging as well as a more premium custom labeling. There is no consumer storefront; all product goes back to the producer for them to sell.
The most recent addition to the facility is the smoker, which allows Alleghany Meats to offer value-added products. The smoker is a single truck smoker that can make snack sticks, summer sausage, bacon, and ham. 350 pounds of product are placed in a single truck.
The room also contains a vacuum tumbler, which can be used to evenly distribute brine and flavoring.
One thing of note is that you’re not supposed to mix USDA inspected products with not-for-sale products when smoking them. For this reason, all pigs processed by the facility are USDA inspected so that they can be processed together.
We asked Josh how he might have done things differently to be more profitable, and what he wants to see change. He said that while their numbers have grown by 15-20% each year, that included a big learning curve, and multiple changes in management. There’s likely always going to be a learning curve, especially when it comes to figuring out how to get product out of the door for more money.
His wish list right now includes making the kill floor about 30 feet longer and to redesign the processing room for more efficiency. They have plans to finish a smoke room addition, which will allow them to be more flexible with the products they develop.
SRM Beef/Biston: $100/head
Beef Premium Package: .85/lb
Beef Basic Package: .68/lb
Hog packaging: .68/lb
For the above add .12/lb for USDA labeling
Lamb/Goat Packaging: $80.00 flat fee (slaughter & packaging included)
USDA inspection and labeling add $5
Sausage/Burger Patties = $.50/lb, 25lb minimum
Sausage Seasoned = $.20/lb, 1 flavor 25lbs min
Seasonings: Maple, Breakfast, Hot Breakfast, Italian, Hot Italian, Chorizo (Chorizo = $.45/lb)
Bratwurst/Sausage Linking = $.65/lb
Vacuum Packing = $.15/lb
Carcass chilled and quartered/primal = $12.50/day
Any meat left more than 5 business days after scheduled pick-up = $5/day
Keep hide = Beef = $50.00, Lamb = $20.00
Any carcass hung more than 14 days = $20 per 7 days
USDA label set-up fee = $15.00
One Steak/Pack = $.25/steak
Less than 3/4 thick steaks = $.25/lb
Cubed steak = $5/order on basic pkg