Since opening 10 years ago, the not-for-profit abattoir located in Emo has faced challenges in receiving enough revenue to remain viable.
“The abattoir had to do something to increase revenue because we can't make it work on slaughter fees alone,” Rainy River District Regional Abattoir board member Kim Jo Bliss stressed.
“For two years, [the abattoir's board members] have been looking at all kinds of options and the thing that kept coming up is that we have to include processing in our business,” she noted.
For the past decade, producers were responsible for marketing their animals after they were processed at the abattoir, which deterred many farmers from bringing their cattle there.
“Most farmers just want to grow their animals, they don't want to sell them,” Bliss reasoned.
“They want someone else to take care of that.”
But since Feb. 1, big changes have come to the abattoir, making it more appealing to producers who would like their beef sold for them locally.
After a couple of years of planning, the abattoir's board of directors announced it now has taken over Rainy River Meats in Emo with the help of the Rainy River Future Development Corp., NOHFC, and SNAPP funding.
“We had really little options," Bliss reiterated. "We knew we had to find more revenue and this is one source.”
Animals that are slaughtered at the abattoir now will be sold at Rainy River Meats in hopes of increasing the flow of animals processed at the plant each year.
Currently, 700 beef units go through the abattoir annually, with each beef unit equating to one finished cull cow or bull, 28 chickens, or two lambs.
“If we can double that number, it would definitely be a step in the right direction,” Bliss said.
A wide variety of animals can be slaughtered at the abattoir, including rabbits, sheep, turkey, duck, elk, pig, quail, and more, with each cut of meat being inspected and graded on site.
“Not every plant has an inspector that can grade their meat so we are really fortunate that our inspector grades our beef, as well,” Bliss noted.
“With the inspector, the producer has a really good tool to know how well they're doing with their meat,” she explained.
The flow of animals through the abattoir slowly is increasing but the next stage of the Rainy River Meats' project is to gear up for the hiring of a marketing team to find more places that want locally-raised meat.
“Our plan is to really set out on a stringent marketing plan and grow the flow [of animals],” Bliss remarked.
So far, the abattoir has seen positive results in selling cull cows, which mainly are used for making burger meat.
“People go through a ton of burger so we have been fairly successful there," she noted. "But now we need to move a little bit beyond that and start selling farm fresh steaks, roasts, and stuff like that.”
More recently, the abattoir's board members have had some great conversations with Emo's councillors, making them optimistic about its future.
“We're feeling very positive about working with the new council in the Township of Emo,” Bliss enthused.
“They see the value and importance of agriculture so we are very pleased with that, and probably for the first time sitting on this board we are feeling a lot more appreciated and needed,” she added.
“But there's still a lot of work to do.”
The abattoir is one of three in Northwestern Ontario available to producers, making its viability incredibly important to the agricultural community and district as a whole.
The abattoir in Dryden currently is closed for renovations while the one in Thunder Bay is full for bookings, which has created a bit of an influx of animals coming through Emo.
“We often have customers from Thunder Bay now because it's a fairly busy plant and it's not easy to get in while the Emo abattoir is more than willing to process animals,” Bliss said.
“We're working together," she added. ”We want all districts to have a working, functioning abattoir. . . .
“Our goal is not to take business away but to help overflow if we can.”
The board's hope is that the local branding of the meat moving through the abattoir also will help raise the profile of the district's animals.
“I can say that in Canada, other programs are all working on promoting their brand and their beef, so we're kind of just trying to stay on par with what others are working on,” Bliss noted.
“Ultimately, our goal is to have it as a functioning business so that you don't have to sit at a board meeting scratching your head wondering what we're going to do to come up with money to pay the bills.”
Looking ahead, Bliss said the board is enthusiastic about its transition to Rainy River Meats but acknowledges there may be some obstacles along the way.
“The group that owned it before did a whole lot of work there that we probably aren't even aware of yet,” Bliss reasoned.
"It's not going to be without challenges moving forward but we're really thankful that they're allowing this opportunity for us.
“I think we're on the right path,” she added.
Bliss urges anyone who interested in quality food and supporting agricultural in the district to stop by Rainy River Meats for some farm-fresh cuts.
“You won't be disappointed," she pledged. "If you've never experienced fresh local food, it has incredible taste and you can be proud that you've supported a local producer.”
Anyone with an animal they're looking to have slaughtered also is encouraged to contact Rainy River Meats at 482-2303.
“Spending money at home and keeping our own business at home is positive,” Bliss stressed.
“It's a win-win for the whole district.”