John Fagundes was a carpenter with a small cattle herd living in Northern California. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down major meat processing plants across the United States, and meat cases sat empty in grocery stores, John knew that small ranchers like him and his neighbors could feed their local communities. But for years prior to the pandemic, small producers across California had been struggling to harvest their livestock, and the pandemic further restricted access to these critical services. So, John sold off most of his herd to raise funds for a USDA-inspected Mobile Slaughter Unit, and JMF Slaughter was born in March 2021.
John recently shared his story during the Shepherding Change in Meat Processing workshop at the 2022 Small Farms Conference, organized by Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Speaking alongside John was Matt Gamba from Bud’s Custom Meats, whose story will be featured in an upcoming blog. This workshop is part of CCOF’s Meat Matters campaign, which advances solutions to the meat processing bottleneck. Underlying the bottleneck is the closure of many of California’s small meat processors due to industry consolidation and regulatory pressures. Today, these factors continue to make it extremely challenging to build new and expand existing processing facilities to meet the evolving needs of California livestock producers and consumers’ growing demand for locally raised organic and grassfed meats. This workshop was an opportunity to hear processors’ perspectives on the challenges they are facing, to learn more about processing businesses, and to understand how producers and processors can more effectively work together.
Starting a meat processing business can be incredibly challenging in the United States. Animal slaughter and processing are highly regulated, and operating expenses are high while profit margins are low. John decided to start small and to offset costs by using his carpentry skills to build some of his own equipment.
Though John’s unit is mobile, he primarily receives livestock at his “host ranch” in Sonoma County, where he can process up to eight animals per day. Humane handling is a major priority for John, who designed his facility to provide a low-stress environment for the animals. “We take our time. It doesn’t matter how busy we are; humane handling is very high on our importance list,” John says. “I raise my own. I get what it takes. I know how much [the producer] has invested in them, and I treat every animal like it’s my own.”
At this time, JMF Slaughter is processing beef, goats, and sheep, and a full list of services can be found on their website. John recommends that producers schedule slaughter slots as soon as possible, especially for five animals or more. Once the producer has booked a slaughter date, John coordinates with the processor who receives the carcasses. Ninety-five percent of his customers want their animals processed at a USDA-inspected facility, which grants them the ability to sell their meat products at all retail outlets in the United States and internationally. The remaining 5 percent of his customers want their animals processed at a CDFA-inspected facility, which means their products are only for personal consumption and cannot be sold.
To make his business run as efficiently as possible, John needs to fill his truck for each delivery to the processing facility. This requires him to coordinate the number and species of animals ahead of time because various processors also have species and scheduling constraints. In early March 2022, John was already getting booked up through July, with many slots scheduled through November.
To hear John’s full story, listen to a recording of the Shepherding Change in Meat Processing workshop on YouTube. JMF Slaughter can be contacted by visiting https://jmfslaughter.com, emailing email@example.com, or calling (707) 775-4723.