Keeping Beef Local

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Originally aired October 7, 2010

It’s getting harder for cattle ranchers with small and medium sized operations to make money. That’s because much of the profit goes to the retailers who sell the beef. Tim Larsen with the Colorado Department of Agriculture says mobile slaughter units could help ranchers improve their bottom line.

"A mobile slaughter unit is basically an 18-wheel truck and trailer that has basically been especially designed or retrofitted so that half of it has a refrigerated hanging capacity and the back side has what you would also have at a slaughter plant," Larsen explained.

That slaughter unit actually comes to the ranch. Then cattle operators can sell their meat directly to you. How it most often works now is that cattle get trucked to a sale barn. Then they’re loaded back on a truck and taken to a feedlot to fatten up. Eventually they go to a slaughterhouse. Elin Rusher runs Music Meadows Ranch west of Pueblo. She raises about 700 head of cattle. Rusher says having access to a mobile slaughter unit would transform her business.

"By going directly to the retail customer from farm to plate the margins are increased by five times for me," she said. Rusher currently makes about a hunded dollars a head. "By going to the dinner plate and selling at a reasonable price I take that to a $400 to $500 a head profit. It's a huge difference."

The Colorado Department of Agriculture wants to help ranchers like Rusher keep their businesses going. So Tim Larsen recently organized a seminar to introduce ranchers to mobile slaughter units. We talk with Larsen about how the units work and what it could mean for Colorado ranchers.

Story produced and reported by Shanna Lewis.