by Karl H. Kazaks
Highland County is Virginia’s least populous county, and neighboring Bath County to the south isn’t much larger. But residents in those counties — as well as surrounding West Virginia counties — have banded together to invest in, build, operate, and support a USDA-inspected meat processing facility, Alleghany Meats.
Alleghany Meats opened last year in the early spring. It slaughters and processes beef, bison, pigs, goats, and sheep. The demand for the facility’s services is growing so rapidly that General Manager Chris Fuller said he would not be surprised to see the facility process 50 percent more animals this year than it did last year.
The inspiration to build the plant came from the fact that before last year the closest inspected packing plant was in Harrisonburg. Local farmers who wanted to direct market cuts of their meat didn’t want to drive all that way just for processing, so they organized an effort to build their own plant. Eventually the campaign attracted close to 100 investors.
The project drew that level of interest because building the plant would not only provide an accessible meat processing facility but also help develop the local economy. Today the plant employs six people.
Alleghany Meats is part of a larger enterprise, the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center, which seeks to promote the agricultural economy of the region. At present the meat processing plant is the largest component of the Agricultural Center’s operations, but it does offer other services. There are also scales and pens at the processing facility which the organization makes available to producers for weighing and treating their animals, as well as for gathering together and building trailer loads of cattle to ship to stockyards.
The organization also strives to help local producers market their products. Last year, it published brochures that co-marketed Alleghany Meats along with a number of producers. Further marketing efforts may develop as the organization matures.
The processing plant is certified by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), so producers who get their farm operations certified by AWA can put the AWA stamp on their products.
“It helps producers set themselves apart,” Fuller said.
To be AWA certified, Alleghany Meats has to meet a number of standards, such as using non-slip flooring (the pens have dirt floors) as well as providing water in the pens. The facility also doesn’t use electric rods.
“Our goal is to treat animals with respect,” Fuller said.
The only major modifications Alleghany Meats has made to its facility since opening last year were modifications done to accommodate bison — adding a new loading chute and installing an extra panel in the stun pen to block bisons’ vision.
AWA certification is part of Alleghany Meats’ general effort to help area producers create niche products. Even with all that Alleghany Meats does, though, producers still have to get the products “to markets where people are,” said Fuller.
Producers who use Allegany Meats to process and inspect animals market their products throughout western Virginia as well as in the Charlottesville and Richmond areas.
Alleghany Meats services people who want to process meat for home consumption only as well as producers who want to sell USDA-inspected cuts.
Typically, the plant will slaughter every Tuesday and Thursday and cut meat every day. Beeves are hung for 10-14 days — producers who want extended aging are charged an additional fee.
The plant offers two package types — basic and premium. The basic package is a traditional cutting style with chuck roast, rump roast, and steaks. The premium package will cut out newer cuts like flat iron, teres major, and western griller steaks. It is particularly good for producers who have the market for such cuts.
Alleghany Meats has also started a cured and smoked meats program, offering ham and bacon right now. “That’s something not a lot of the smaller inspected plants in Virginia offer,” Fuller said.
Steve Friel of Millboro (in eastern Bath County), decided to process beef at Alleghany Meats because of good word-of-mouth reviews he had heard about the facility.
“I’ve heard you do an excellent job,” he told Fuller during a recent visit. “Get ready to see me every year.”
by Karl H. Kazaks