Marin Sun begins slaughter, producers note prices

04/10/2014

The Petaluma slaughterhouse under new ownership by Marin Sun Farms’ CEO David Evans launched into a quick reopening this week under a cloud of skepticism from local ranchers and an animal rights protest.

“Welcome to 1522 Petaluma Boulevard, the new home of Marin Sun Farms-Petaluma,” Mr. Evans told reporters last month. The facility “is the access to market we all desperately need to continue together in transforming the food system… Marin Sun Farms is no longer only a competitor in the diverse niche meat market of California; Marin Sun Farms is a partner in the success of all niche meat producers in California.”

Since gaining U.S.D.A. approval to reopen, the interior has been power-washed clean, outside walls have been painted and the signature, dirt-grimed cow and calf have been lopped off the roof. “Everything has been rewritten, reinspected and recertified,” Mr. Evans said. (Some specialized staff have been retained.) He plans to slaughter 100 cattle a week, about half as many as Rancho, and 100 pigs.

Prices have also changed. Rancho charged around $95 per head for cattle, but recent quotes are $106, in addition to minor charges for each animal’s head, offal and transport, which Rancho provided complementary or at a base fee per producer. For larger pig producers, prices have nearly doubled and are around four times as high as facilities in the Central Valley. 

Marin Sun Farms did not respond to questions this week about pricing and new procedures. At the press conference two weeks ago, Mr. Evans said prices had not yet been determined but would be arrived at by talking with other ranchers. “As far as I know, most other facilities in the state—ones that I’ve used even—are on par with the charges that we expect,” he said, before adding that costs may be higher due to the plant’s low volume of animals.

As ranchers have recovered from the massive recall, rhetoric often focused on building institutions to sustain a local foodshed. But now, as high-minded ideals translate into practical matters like scheduling animals and setting prices, many ranchers are moving forward cautiously. For the first time, they are coping with a new challenge: a competitor controls all the means of production. Some of the larger producers, including BN Ranch and Devils Gulch Ranch, decided not to take their animals to the slaughterhouse this week as they consider their options. 

The first animals to go through the new facility were 20 pigs from Walnut Keep Farm, near Fairfield. They were trucked in late Sunday afternoon, and Monday before sunrise, they were killed. “I oversaw the whole process,” Mr. Evans later commented on Facebook. “Beautiful.”