If you’ve ever bought one of Browder’s Birds to serve certified organic local free-range chicken at home or had one tantalizingly prepared for you at well-loved locavore paradise The North Fork Table & Inn, chances are you’ve been jonesing all winter long for another taste of the lean, local meat.
And you’re in luck, because not only are farmers Holly and Chris Browder the proud new owners of Long Island’s very first mobile slaughterhouse—thanks in part to a $61,375 grant awarded by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council—but the farmers are also seeking a license that will mean they will no longer be subject to a 1,000-bird annual cap.
New York State’s small farm exemption currently allows the Browders to sell 1,000 chickens every year from their 16-acre farm in Mattituck. They are looking into becoming licensed with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets as operators of an MPU, or mobile processing unit, which will increase that limit to 20,000 birds annually.
“Every small state exemption is different, so in Virginia that’s enough to make into a small business at 20,000 birds, but at 1,000 birds we sell out in October and then we’re done,” Holly Browder said of the difficulties in operating under New York’s small farm exemption, adding that she and husband will “never” reach 20,000 birds in hopes of maintaining their reputation as responsible, caring poultry farmers, who raise their local chicks free range.
“We’re not trying to be a huge chicken producer because the whole thing with pasture-raised animals is that you don’t want too many animals,” she said. “We just want to grow our business enough to be sustainable.”
Though Long Island’s first MPU is a 28-foot aluminum trailer filled with stainless steel equipment capable of processing upward of 500 poultry animals per day, Chris Browder, a former managing director at Bank of America and two-decade Manhattanite, said he isn’t looking to produce that kind of volume.
“Right now I’m just interested in learning how to use this thing properly,” said Browder, who has historically manually processed his chickens. “We’ll probably do 100 chickens at a time until we get super comfortable with it. Once we feel like we have everything under control, then maybe we’ll increase that number.” He said the facility “absolutely” has the capability to be moved around to other farms that have access to 100 amps of electricity, propane and potable water, but added he is not at a point where he has seriously considered doing so.
“Until I know the ins and outs of this thing, we’re just going to use it ourselves,” he said.
Browder plans to begin using the MPU come Memorial Day weekend, but added he will remain limited to 1,000 chickens until the licensing process is through.
“First order of business is getting the 5-A [license] so we can ramp up past 1,000,” he said. “Who knows if that will take two days or two years.”
Though Browder said the mobile processing concept is relatively new, he hopes the fact that the unit’s design has already been approved by New York State will help streamline the bureaucratic process.
“This particular unit was designed and built by a friend of mine named Ed Leonardi from WildCraft Farm upstate in Swan Lake,” Browder said of the facility, which he purchased last month. “I learned about him because of his MPU and called him shortly after he’d finished it in 2009 or 2010 and said that I would love to come up and take a look … It took him a long, long time to get that thing licensed, but he was finally able to get Ag and Markets to sign off on the design, so that unit is approved for [poultry] slaughter in New York State.”
Browder said though discussions of a mobile red meat slaughterhouse on Long Island are ongoing, he doesn’t believe it’s likely one will be rolling to the East End any time soon.
“Those things are expensive and they need a lot of throughput so the question is, ‘Is there enough volume out here to justify something that expensive?’” explained Browder. “The jury’s still out on that.”
Holly Browder said she is hopeful, adding that a recently-formed committee is looking at logistics on the subject looking forward. ”Everybody new is doing livestock,” she said of the East End animal raising trend.
Browder is a member on the Long Island Farm Bureau’s board of directors and was instrumental is the founding of Riverhead’s weekly indoor farmers market, Saturdays at 117 East Main Street, across from Suffolk Theater.