Plant processes first cattle

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 21, 2005
by WLJ
The first new packing house to open in Alberta since BSE was discovered in Canada recently processed their first cattle.
After pondering the idea of turning a shuttered chicken processing plant into a beef facility over seven years ago, producers Reita and Stan Sparks, Wanham, Alberta, revisited that plan and moved forward with it after BSE was discovered back in 2003.
"It gave us a jolt to try something else," said Stan Sparks, who plans to kill 70 animals a week at Hart Valley Processors near Wanham in the Peace River region of the country.
Seven cattle were processed on Feb. 8, the first day of operation, but the Sparks expect to kill 35 head a day twice a week by late February.
"If we get enough enthusiasm or enough work we could probably double what we're planning on," Sparks said.
While as many as 40 new packing plants have been talked about across the Prairies, this is the first to open in Alberta since BSE was discovered two years ago on a farm about five miles east of the plant’s location.
Unlike other groups trying to raise money by selling shares to other producers, the couple financed the venture themselves. They sold half a section of farmland and mortgaged the rest to renovate the 8,300 square-foot plant.
Sparks said there was little desire shown from bankers to back the project. The project is financed through three lenders.
"Bankers don't want to get involved. The Alberta government doesn't want to get involved. They're making noise but they're not really handing out any money," he said.
"Part of it is the financing. Nobody's getting any help. We just went in and did it. There's a lot of talk about building slaughter houses, but no one is really doing anything but talk.”
He said time will tell if jumping into a packing plant business with little experience is the right way or just the quickest way.
The former chicken facility is now a beef "kill and chill" operation.
The meat that leaves the plant is cut into large sections and vacuum packed. Producers can then either find a butcher to finish cutting the meat or sell it directly to restaurants.
"It's up to the farmer to make his own sale and we'll process the meat," Sparks said. "We're not into the marketing end of the meat."
There are plenty of butcher shops able to cut and wrap the meat, but most federal or provincial plants have a three or four month waiting list for slaughtering.
The Peace River region has one provincial slaughter plant in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and a federal slaughter plant in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. — WLJ