By Connor Lynch
ATHENS — She doesn’t have a farming background, and never particularly wanted to start a slaughterhouse. So when Rideau Meats closed in February, she was really hoping that someone else would step up to the plate. But nobody did.
So Barbara Schaefer, who raises about 350 hogs in Athens, west of Brockville, pulled up her bootstraps.
“I really didn’t want to do this. I wanted to focus on my farming,” Schaefer told Farmers Forum. “But if I wanted to continue my own business, I had to.”
She’s one of 1,500 farmers who, with the closure of Rideau Meats at Smiths Falls, were left scrambling to find a slaughterhouse to take them in. The slaughterhouse Schaefer brings her hogs to, about 40 minutes away, closed last month temporarily. She could take her swine to Quinn’s Meats in Yarker, over an hour away, but they aren’t taking any new animals until the fall, she said. “I slaughter every week. That’s unworkable.”
But thus far, her efforts have met with nothing but good luck. First, she found an Athens location that, up until four years ago, was a slaughterhouse.
The local National Farmers Union branch paid $1,000 for an inspection of the premises, which gave Schaefer a working guide to get the place up to snuff. It also paid for the incorporation of the non-profit slaughterhouse.
“They were the first call I made, and they immediately said ‘Yes, we’ll help,’ otherwise I wouldn’t still be doing this,” said Schaefer, who will be the manager.
When the slaughterhouse opens, it’ll have the capacity to slaughter around 1,750 livestock annually, which Schaefer expects will grow before the first year is out.
Initially, it will slaughter cattle, goats, sheep, lambs, and swine. The year after, Schaefer wants to add facilities for chicken.
Schaefer figures as many as 1,500 area farmers are going to take advantage of the slaughterhouse once it opens. It’ll mostly be Rideau Meats’ 1,000 former customers, who Schaefer said have gone as far afield as Pakenham to get their animals to slaughter.
It will cost around $250,000 to purchase the facility, repair it and bring it up to code. Schaefer hopes to raise $60,000 for the venture and get the rest from the bank. You can donate by going to the webiste www.uppercanadaheritagemeat.ca/ and clicking on Farmersville Community Abattoir..
“This is a unique opportunity. This place is already zoned as an abattoir,” she said, adding it would cost over $1 million to do the whole process from scratch.
Schaefer wants to be up and running by August. “This has to work. Failure is not an option.”