JONATHAN SHIPLEY Lee Newspapers
SPRING GREEN — It was originally a 24-foot panel van. Some modifications have been made. It now has a 300 gallon water tank. It has stainless steel sinks; an inverter. It has saws. A tool for stunning. The back of it is used for harvesting. The rail system is located at the front. The cooler too. It is the Prem Meats Natural Harvest Mobile Slaughter Unit.
Natural Harvest, the only mobile slaughterhouse in the state of Wisconsin, harvests approximately 25 cattle, 10 hogs and a menagerie of small ruminants each week.
Prem Meats has its headquarters in Spring Green and a second location in Prairie du Sac. The company serves an average of 50 farms a month, some of which are regular customers.
“We have several amazing loyal customers who continue to use our services,” said Lily Cooper, head butcher at Natural Harvest and general manager of Prem Meats’ Spring Green site. The Reedsburg resident said, “Our customers range from one animal per year harvested for family use to customers who harvest five to 10 animals per month for state controlled sale through farmers markets or their own store fronts.”
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Natural Harvest’s slaughter unit is on the road picking up customers where they need to be to help them with their meat needs.
Prem Meats originated in 1972 in Bill and Sandy Prem’s garage. It was a small venison processing shop that grew over time and dedication to include a retail front selling everything from groceries to baked goods. BBQ accessories to camping supplies, spirits and frozen meats. Marty and Terry Prem and their sons took over the business in 2010. In 2021 they grew and added a second location in Prairie du Sac.
Her father’s professional dream, which started in the garage, has given rise to another dream from his sons’ garage: the mobile slaughterhouse.
“In 2016, Marty was approached with the idea of building a mobile slaughter unit,” Cooper said, “and he saw a need for this service.” Mobile slaughter units are widely available, but most are not government controlled, which limits farmers how they can market their beef, hogs and small ruminants.
Cooper said, “Marty worked closely with several people to design the truck to meet the requirements of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection.”
In order for the unit to be state certified, it must have its own HACCP plan. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food safety against biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the end product to be unsafe and develops measures to reduce these risks to safe levels.
“The state uses this as a guide to ensure the meat we harvest is humane and safe,” Cooper said. The facility had to be designed in such a way that all the requirements of an inpatient facility were met.
Cooper said, “It took a lot of creative thinking and hard work to condense it into a mobile application.”
A mobile slaughterhouse offers a number of advantages. The USDA certified controlled meat slaughtered at the unit can be sold at local stores and restaurants. livestock are treated more humanely as transport stress is managed or eliminated; and there is no longer any need to transport cattle to a stationary slaughterhouse.
There are challenges. While a stationary operation has a more regulated environment with better controlled risks, a harvest truck operates in all sorts of conditions. For example, there is the weather in Wisconsin that has to be dealt with.
“Something as commonplace as poor road conditions can really set the truck back,” Cooper said.
The truck team also has to struggle with different farm setups and the associated challenges.
“We’re really fortunate,” Cooper said, “to have a team that looks forward to adapting to all of the ever-changing risks and variables that come with road traffic and providing a valuable service year-round.” .”
The unit serves much of southern Wisconsin but has traveled further afield. Livestock farmers pay mileage allowance.
The operation is still fresh and still has a lot of kilometers to go. “We’re always improving our truck,” Cooper said. “And the industry is constantly evolving. It will be exciting to see what the future will bring.”
The way is still ahead of us.
Photos: Slaughterhouse bottleneck chokes off transport from farm to fork