A lack of access to abattoirs is affecting small-scale farmers across Australia, including in the Central Highlands.
Farmers in Hepburn Shire are working to create a local solution. They want a not-for-profit, collectively owned abattoir in Daylesford.
Small scale regional abattoirs have been closing down for years.
The Daylesford abattoir stopped operations in 2004. An abattoir in Carisbrook was closed in 2005.
These closures, and countless across Australia throughout the past 20 years, have added to industry uncertainty.
Farmers have been forced to drive longer distances to process a small number of animals at larger, more centralised facilities.
In some cases, pigs have been rejected from multi-species red meat abattoirs.
At least one poultry abattoir has denied farmers access based on competition because they produced the same breed as the abattoir owner.
Tammi Jonas from Jonai Farms in Eganstown first started to consider solutions more than four years ago.
“Ever since we started here on the farm we knew one of the risks to the system was using the big industrial abattoirs. Small growers are losing access to those abattoirs,” she said.
“Poultry growers in particular are under stress with their abattoirs. There is one they can go to in Dandenong. They have lost access to the abattoir in Sunshine.”
Jonai Farms built a boning room on farm and a commercial kitchen to ensure access and control over more of their value chain.
People are so hungry for a small option.Tammi Jonas, Jonai Farms
Ms Jonas and her partner Stuart toured abattoirs in the United States in 2017 to research models that could be applied back home.
They visited eight small-scale farming abattoirs in nine days and discovered challenges to sustaining small-scale slaughter facilities, in particular poultry abattoirs.
Now the Hepburn Meat Collective has completed a feasibility study for a multi-species abattoir in Daylesford that is cooperatively owned and not-for-profit.
It is envisioned the project will start with an abattoir, boning room and commercial kitchen, but could also include on-site composting, rendering and leather production, while ensuring highest animal welfare practices by locating holding pens away from the entrance to the kill floor.
Around 30 or 40 small growers would benefit immediately from its establishment.
“In the case of a cooperatively-owned abattoir, it exists to serve the needs of its members,” Ms Jonas said.
“We believe that nobody should profit from slaughter – it’s a critical part of the food chain that should provide a service for a fee, not profits for shareholders.
“People are so hungry for a small option.”
The Hepburn Meat Collective, the group leading the project, is a collaboration between Jonai Farms, Milking Yard Farm and Vou du Volcan Farm.
The push to establish an abattoir in Daylesford comes as farmers across the country look for local abattoir solutions.
“I know people in Queensland who were shut out of an abattoir 30 to 40 minutes from their farm, now they have to drive five hours,” Ms Jonas said.
“It is not just us, there are people working on these projects all over country. We hope what we learn, we can share with others so it can be replicated.”
Models for emerging and existing small-scale regional abattoirs will be discussed at the Slow Meat Symposium in Daylesford on Tuesday.
“We know the issues. Now we are looking at the solutions,” Ms Jonas said.
“We know a number of these projects are happening already in Australia.”
Two growers who have built abattoirs on their farms will attend the discussion to share their experiences. Others attending may also be in the process of establishing a regional abattoir.
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