15 June 2001

Local abattoir offers post-F&M recovery

Plans for a new abattoir in

Cumbria could help provide a

fresh start for farmers

after foot-and-mouth.

North-west correspondent

Jeremy Hunt reports

CUMBRIAS first producer-owned abattoir aims to enhance livestock producers returns by selling meat direct to retail butchers and consumers.

It could be slaughtering its first stock early next year.

The driving force behind the project are local producers Steve Dunning and Richard Warburton. The abattoir and meat processing plant will trade as J-38 Meats, so named because the site is just two minutes from junction 38 on the M6.

The initial plan is to convert redundant buildings on Mr Dunnings farm at Raisgill Hall, Tebay, to provide slaughter facilities for an estimated 250 lambs, 20 beef cattle and 50 pigs a week. The Meat and Livestock Commission is already involved and a growing number of Cumbrian livestock producers is backing the scheme.

"We had already been discussing the idea of a farmer-run abattoir in Cumbria before the foot-and-mouth crisis. Now, more than ever, it has a vital role to play in the recovery of the countys livestock sector," says Mr Dunning, who runs 600 Rough Fell and Swaledale ewes alongside a dairy herd.

Mr Warburton milks 200 dairy cows at Colby, Appleby, but lost 500 breeding ewes and lambs due to a 3km cull. He says: "Too much cash has been taken out of the prime stock equation by middlemen and it has driven producers to the edge. We have ended up on a treadmill. That is not the way we see our future."

He has already tasted the financial benefits that can be generated by selling direct to retail butchers. Last year he met demand for local lambs in late spring when hogget supplies from the Rough Fell Sheep Meat Producers Group ended.

"We had our Texel-cross lambs slaughtered and butchered and sold direct to butchers. They wanted locally-reared lamb and came looking for us," says Mr Warburton. Rough Fell lambs sold live by Mr Dunning last autumn, weighing 40kg, made £28-£29. The same lambs slaughtered and sold direct to butchers were worth £40-£42.

"Beef is no different. My Aberdeen Angus x Holstein heifers sold through a deadweight scheme would do well to make £480. Slaughtered, butchered and sold direct they would earn me £1200. That is the cash being drained out of livestock farming and that is why we believe the time is right to develop this facility," says Mr Dunning.

The new abattoir at Tebay will also provide a cutting plant to meet the needs of producers selling through farmers markets.

"We are keen to get as many livestock producers as possible involved. We have requested a small financial commitment from them to provide some initial backing for the planning and preliminary work to get things off the ground," says Mr Warburton.

Three funding options to finance the scheme are being investigated, but the overall cost has not yet been disclosed.

There are no plans to brand any of the meat handled by the project. Both Mr Warburton and Mr Dunning believe that the Cumbrian image is sufficient to appeal to local butchers and further afield. &#42

Cumbrian livestock producers have much to gain from a local abattoir, say Steve Dunning (left) and Richard Warburton.

ABATTOIR OWNERSHIP

&#8226 Cuts out middlemen.

&#8226 Secures better returns.

&#8226 Good local support.