A small abattoir bucking the trend as the business grows
Barry Alston takes a look at a meat industry rarity – a small abattoir which is expanding.
Britain’s network of small to medium-sized abattoirs is getting smaller and smaller as rising costs and increasing legislation continue to force closures.
But one South Wales family-owned slaughterhouse is bucking the trend.
Following a £500,000 investment, the Maddock Kembery Meats operation at Garth, near Maesteg, now ranks among the country’s most modern, with its expansion aimed at filling some of the void.
Prudent management and some shrewd buying of equipment has meant, despite the economic downturn, throughput capacity has been almost trebled.
Previously, the plant could only handle 300 lambs, 30 cattle and 100 pigs a week. Today, there is sufficient capacity to either kill up to 1,000 lambs, 60 cattle or 300 pigs a day.
Such a development however, is remarkable given today’s tight operating margins. For any abattoir to even contemplate installing new equipment is an extremely difficult decision to make – but going for a new-build really is a rarity.
With the number of small slaughterhouses right across the country now barely a shadow of what it was only five years ago, the real driving force behind the Maesteg operation is total family commitment, not only to its well-established database of retail outlets, but to the growing numbers of livestock farmers who rely on its facilities.
There has been a slaughterhouse on the site for more than 120 years but the present-day plant, taken over in 1985 by William and Gayle Maddock, is far different to the killing lines of the 1890s.
In 1999, stepson Andrew Kembery, and younger son Collwyn Maddock, joined the business, steadily building up trade to what last year saw a £1.3 million turnover.
The company now employs 14 staff, including two part-time employees, serving both the abattoir and the attached traditional-style retail butcher’s shop.
The decision to invest in brand- new facilities was not, however, taken without a great deal of thought and certainly was not one taken in a hurry.
It has, in fact, been four years, in the making and even involved shutting down completely for six months until the new facilities could be fully commissioned.
The new building incorporates new offices above the multi-species slaughter hall, and the adjoining former slaughter hall has been completely renovated and converted to provide increased chilled storage space:
- Whereas the old slaughter hall covered a mere 43sq.m, the new one has 147sq.m.
- Chiller space for cattle has trebled from 20 to 60, and lamb capacity is up from 300 to 800.
- Lairage capacity has been doubled to hold up to 360 lambs.
Full processing facilities are also able to joint and cut carcases according to customer requirements.
Total spend over the past four years has been £517,000, which includes the assistance of Welsh Assembly marketing and processing grants.
With three main elements to the business - contract killing for butchers, slaughtering for their own meat wholesale customers, and killing, cutting and processing for individual farmers either for their own domestic use, farmers’ market or farm shop outlets – nothing is considered too small to handle as far as the family is concerned.
Guidance is always on hand as well to steer customers through the maze of regulations that have come on stream, adding greatly to the loyalty shown by regular customers.
“The slaughter industry has really been hit for six in recent years with regulation after regulation, so it is little wonder so many have been forced to close,” says Andrew, who heads up the business side of the company.
“Were it not for the fact we are a family operation with full-time hands-on involvement, we could well have become just another digit in the closure statistics.”
Both he and Collwyn, who is in charge of the abattoir’s day-to-day running, put much of the blame for plant shutdowns on the cost of implementing the avalanche of red tape forced on the industry.
“Make no mistake, we are fully behind the need for full traceability of animals, strict monitoring of slaughtering procedures and making sure every stage of the process is conducted in clean and healthy conditions.
“But is there really the need for all the paperwork that goes with it?” asks Collwyn.
“Many of the forms that have to be completed merely duplicate the information. Filling them in takes time and that adds up to a hefty cost.
“Whereas the large scale plants have the throughput and staff to be able to handle that burden, for the small to medium-sized abattoir, the bureaucracy has become an administrative nightmare.
“With the ever-growing consumer call for locally produced food and the need to cut down food miles, farmers, butchers and other retail outlets need access to a local abattoir. But, as the number of remaining plants gets smaller and smaller that is a necessity which has become harder and harder to find.
“We already have farmers travelling from Pembrokeshire and Herefordshire because they are unable to find a kill-and-cut service nearer home and, considering the new plant has only been in operation since October, we are getting a growing number of enquiries from further afield.”
Just how fragile the abattoir sector has become is vividly highlighted by the fact that much of the equipment installed in the new building was bought second-hand.
“Realistically, it is true to say, to a large extent, we have only been able to carry through with the new-build due to the misfortunes of others,” adds Andrew.
“It most definitely would not have been possible under present marketing conditions had we been buying brand-new killing lines and all the ancillary equipment requirements which go with today’s state-of-the-art facilities.
“Most of what we have installed has been bought at auction sales for abattoirs that no longer exist. And there were very few bidders for some very sophisticated equipment.
“That is a sad reflection of what is happening within the meat processing industry.”