Justin Pitts knows exactly how far he has to drive to get his animals to the slaughterhouse: 217 miles one way. That’s an eight hour round trip.
“I get up early and give them some feed and get going while it’s cool and quiet,” the Ellisville, Miss. farmer says of his preparations for the drive. “Gas is one of my biggest expenses.”
Pitts raises heritage beef, pork and lamb and sells at the Crescent City Farmers’ Market in New Orleans. His locally- and sustainably raised meats are popular among market goers and restaurant owners, but Pitts’ long trip to the slaughterhouse highlights a problem that small meat farmers across the country are facing: The demand for local meat products is growing, but the slaughterhouses that small farms depend on-many of them small businesses, too-are scarce. Getting his animals processed, Pitts says, is “the biggest obstacle I face in farming.”
Today’s meat industry is dominated by a handful of giant, industrial-scale meat producers that process the vast amount of meat consumed in this country. By 2005, four companies were slaughtering over 80 percent of the nation’s cattle and over 60 percent of hogs. As these industry giants have taken over the market, the number of small slaughterhouses across the country has steadily declined, even as the number of small farms has rebounded in recent years.