campaigning for small and local abattoirs

Mobile slaughter unit

Local. Sustainable. Humane.

Slaughtering our animals as close to the point of production as possible is a critical part of ensuring the highest standards of welfare for our animals right the way from birth until death.

Local slaughtering facilities are essential for local, traceable meat. However, many small abattoirs have been forced to close in recent years due to regulatory and financial burdens. There are now as few as 50 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK.

This is why we have been campaigning for small abattoirs since 2018, alongside the Sustainable Food Trust and National Craft Butchers, and became co-founders of the Abattoir Sector Group in 2020.

Mobile Slaughter Unit (MSU)

We are committed to ensuring the future of small abattoirs and to providing a slaughter service for farmers who want to sell their meat locally. 

Following extensive research beginning in 2018, our mobile slaughter unit was eventually designed by Cogemat, an Italian company with 50 years’ experience in the industry. It was built and shipped to the UK in 2021 where it went through a rigorous inspection and licensing process. As of summer 2022, it has been fully licensed and operational. The unit is owned by Fir Farm and currently also used by Elston Farm, Devon. The unit is a prototype and continues to undergo testing and improvements.

What are the benefits of a mobile slaughtering unit?

  • Animals will not have to endure the stress of transport or livestock markets.
  • Meat is fully traceable for the consumer.
  • Reducing stress improves meat quality. 
  • Meat has a lower carbon footprint due to reduced transport emissions.
  • The welfare and environmental credentials provide a marketing advantage.

What does the MSU contain?

The unit is a 40-foot-long standard shipping container mounted on its own self levelling road trailer, it includes its own power generator, water heater, drainage system, hydraulic system, and air compressor.

Although the manufacturers designed the unit to meet the EU legislation they applied the Italian interpretation of the legislation, based on the Italian breeds, sizes of stock and climatic conditions. Some modifications were therefore needed before use in the UK.

  • Drover’s race – required to ensure operator safety.
  • Stronger ramp end stop (chains were used in the original design).
  • Gut tray needed raising to ensure safer and easier green offal inspection.
  • Provision of additional electrical connections to allow a mains supply from adjacent buildings, to eliminate the need for the generator.
  • Modifications to beef dressing line to accommodate larger UK breeds of cattle.
  • Separate bleed rail for sheep and pigs. 
  • UV equipment sterilisers to ensure efficient sterilisation and reduce running costs.

What is the throughput?

The unit is still being tested; however, a conservative estimate is that 5 cattle, 35 sheep or 25 pigs per day would be necessary to make it cost-effective. It is thought that 50-60 sheep per day would be possible depending on the set-up and facilities on-site. The unit can handle sheep and pigs more easily than cattle due to the limited space.

What are the external requirements for the location where the MSU is sited?

As the unit is mobile, it does not have the satellite functions of lairage, gut room, chilling and processing attached in the same way as a static abattoir. Any of these areas external to the unit need to be licensed by the FSA. 

The following additional facilities are required:

  • Potable water supply and electricity (3 phase for pig equipment).
  • Covered lairage and walkways – to include potable water, CCTV and adequate space and lighting to carry out ante mortem inspection. This can be a section of an existing barn providing it meets regulatory requirements. 
  • Detainment pen with its own drainage, water and separate access for any suspect animal pending re-inspection. 
  • A concrete hard standing area with drainage to aid cleansing and disinfection. 
  • Facilities to dispose of washing water – this can be a tank or mains sewer, or the water can be spread on land providing the correct license is obtained. 
  • Guts and by-products – the mobile unit does not contain its own gut room due to space limitations. Having a small gut room adjacent to the unit would be ideal as this would enable more of the animal to be used.
  • Chiller – on a mobile unit, as with some small abattoirs, the chilling space is the most limiting factor and can create a bottleneck that restricts production. The MSU chiller can only accommodate 5 cattle (or sheep and pig equivalent). Ideally, an on-site or additional mobile chiller would be available to continue carcase chilling to +7oC. 
  • Facilities for the Official Veterinarian (OV), including a nearby toilet.
  • Further site requirements include adequate fencing to prevent escape of livestock, suitable access for a 40ft articulated lorry as well as the ability to restrict access should a notifiable disease be suspected.

How is the MSU moved?

An articulated lorry is used to tow the MSU.

What sort of license does the MSU need?

The MSU is currently subject to the same licensing requirements as any other red meat slaughterhouse. One difference is that the site and facilities and the MSU must be approved together. Currently the location cannot be approved without the MSU being present. The mobile unit will have its own licence, but the external facilities will also have to be checked and approved.

Does the MSU need a CPH number?

A County Parish Holding (CPH) number is required for the mobile unit and a separate number is needed for the licensed area, to correctly report the movement of livestock. The RPA have given assurances that applications for CPH numbers will be expedited swiftly and will not have any impact on the farm’s RPA payments.

What are the costs of an MSU?

Base costs for the unit in 2020-2021 were £250k, plus further improvements. This cost may be higher now; however, it would still be significantly less than the cost of a new static abattoir. Running costs and typical charges are still being worked out as the unit is currently undergoing rigorous testing and improvements. 

Grant funding may be available to support with the build costs. The Fir Farm project received RDPE funding via the Growth Programme for 40% of the capital costs. 

Will the MSU compete with existing small abattoirs?

Moveable abattoirs should be part of the overall solution to providing slaughtering services to farmers wanting to produce and sell local, sustainable, and high welfare meat. This type of unit is intended to be used in areas where there is no other small abattoir service available. 

What might the future operational or business model look like?

The current operational model is for the unit to be used by two or three farms in the south, with it travelling between each farm where it will then stay for an extended period.

Fir Farm’s view is that hub sites, which include the additional facilities such as lairage, chill room and cutting room, could be set up, run, and shared by farmer-led groups. An MSU could then move between several farmer hub sites, shared by the surrounding farmers, rather than each individual farm needing to become licensed and provide the correct facilities.

Another option is to use the MSU as a static modular unit as it could provide a more affordable way of establishing a new abattoir or of avoiding the costs of a rebuild. This would work well in locations that already have FSA approved chillers, processing, and butchery facilities. 

Find out more

Once facilities are in place, Fir Farm intend to hold open days for those interested in building their own MSU and who would like to know more about the process and workings of the Fir Farm unit. If you would like to hear when open days are taking place, please register your interest by email to megan@sustainablefoodtrust.org

This work has been partly funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. 

In 2020 we were co-founders of the Abattoir Sector Group. This group aims to provide a unified voice for the sector and works with government to help address the problems small abattoirs face.

Click here to read more about the Abattoir Sector Group.

Further Reading

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