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Bay Area's Last Slaughterhouse Expanding

Rancho Feeding on Petaluma Boulevard North will now add hogs to its operation in order to increase capacity and stay profitable

In a move aimed at self-preservation as much as offering a service to local ranchers, Rancho Veal, a Petaluma cattle broker, and Rancho Feeding, the Bay Area’s last slaughterhouse, are expanding their operations to include hogs.

The diversification began earlier this spring as a way to stabilize both businesses at a time when fewer cattle are being sent to slaughter.

“We have to go out of the county, even out of the state to get enough cattle to stay in business, so we figured the hogs would help us keep production,” said Babe Amaral, owner of Rancho Feeding on Petaluma Boulevard North.

About 60 percent of Rancho’s cattle business is from outside Sonoma County, but the supply chain is not steady throughout the year, with a slowdown from January to April.  That, says Amaral, prompted both companies to consider what it could do to bolster operations and in March, Rancho Veal began purchasing pigs from Sonoma County farms.

The slaughterhouse processes about 400 cows and 60 hogs a week, although Amaral expects the hog operation to grow with time.

Amaral has owned Rancho Feeding since 1971 and like many ranchers bemoans the loss of local grazing lands to vineyards, which are more profitable. The loss of both beef and daily cattle means less product for his slaughterhouse, which is now operating at about 75 percent capacity.

“We’re still OK, but it’s going down,” Amaral said. “Our biggest competitor is the U.S. government because of all the regulations. It’s getting more costly and it doesn’t make the product taste any better.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector is present whenever animals are slaughtered.

Although the slaughterhouse is often a target for animal rights groups, who have staged protests outside the facility, many in the agricultural sector say it’s providing a crucial service for local farms.

Having a slaughterhouse in the area means better access for ranchers, shorter truck trips between the slaughterhouse and retailers, and lower prices and fresher meat for consumers.

It’s also better for the animals, say some.

“Say you’ve got a cow that has a bad leg or is injured, you can take it to Rancho Veal right away, “ said Scott Gerber, a beef cattle rancher on Sonoma Mountain. “It’s a great service for local farms.”

The only other slaughterhouses are located in Los Banos and Fresno, 150 and 230 miles away, respectively.

Amaral and Bob Singleton, who owns Rancho Veal, have been approached numerous times to sell the slaughterhouse, but the men have held on to their operation.

Last year Marin Sun Farms, a grass-fed cattle operation in Point Reyes made an offer and in 2008 the slaughterhouse entered negotiations with a developer who wanted to build 79 new homes on the plot of land as well as behind the slaughterhouse.

The talks fell through because of jittery nerves brought on by the housing market crash, although not before leaving Amaral and Singleton with a deposit that enabled them to make an investment in hogs.

Janette Brown May 10, 2012 at 02:52 PM
It truly makes me sick. As a animal lover it turns my stomach to see this place. Yes everyone I DO know how meat gets to market nicely warped up in cellophane and how its gets that way so we can have our dinner! But it still makes me sick to know how these animals die and are butchered its barbaric. I do hope they are humanly killed before being sliced and diced. But I have seen to many shows were they are treated as if they do not feel and are just no better than an inanimate object. I dont know about this place ? Anybody know? I have heard stories that make me want to hurl. I don't care what anyone says animals Do have feelings . Pigs are very intelligent. Cows feel fear and pain. I just wish there was a way to make there death better. After all don't we put our beloved pets down in a humane way when its time? I am thinking these business people just hit the cows and pigs in the head to save time and money or something else equally worse. We all could live without eating meat ...........but yes I know that will never happen ..........in our society we still kill each other why would we stop killing animals? And yes I guess I am a bleeding heart kind of person. But could we not use more "bleeding hearts" in the world instead of murder , rape and all the awful horrible things people do? Just saying.............
Karina Ioffee May 10, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Thanks for your comments, Janette. According to the owner, they use a stun gun to incapacitate animals, do they don't feel anything, then they are butchered, although the heart is still beating so that all the blood can drain out of the body. I know this is graphic (and the reason I left it out of the story), but I'm telling you since you asked. If blood is not drained out of the animal before it dies, it makes the meat taste sour.
Ellen Perlson May 10, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Janette, if you want to eat only vegtables and grains, thats FINE by me!! I eat meat, I enjoy meat, and oh by the way I am an animal lover as well. Get off your high PETA horse, and leave the rest of us alone. BTW the animals are brain dead before they are killled so they dont feel anything. It is very humane actually. One zap and than nothing. Peta tells incredible LIES. BTW if people didnt eat meat than there would be no cows or pigs period... Perhaps in your little PETA fantasy world these animals would just skip to my loo down the street, but thats not how it is in real life darling..
Albert David May 10, 2012 at 07:21 PM
I originally stopped eating cows for health reasons. Later, I decided that I did not want to kill animals and gave up poultry and other meats. That does not mean I am a "bleeding heart" or member of PETA. There is no need to call names. Some of us feel that there are other foods which taste good and in fact are better for us than animal products.
Janette Brown May 10, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Ellen ....I do not belong to PETA ....that was a very hurtful comment ...I do not care if you eat meat or not...my point was I was hoping the animals get put down in a gentle way that they do not have to suffer. Ellen please in the future do not be so quick to judge others. I have nothing against you why must you be so mean? You need to be kinder and if everyone took a little more time to think before they write or act the world would be a better place.
LongTimeLocal May 10, 2012 at 08:10 PM
The stunning process, done locally, is about as instant as it gets. Far less stressful than transportation and feedlots. If we are to eat meat, and the point is taken that domestic hogs and cattle are an entirely artificial breed that would not exist, keep it local for everyone's sake. Karina, you're not quite correct - the heart does stop in most cases pretty quickly, within the stun period (and there's only one method that's recoverable from), and it's a gravity bleed UNLESS you're talking strict Kosher or Halal that requires the animal be conscious. I come from a long line of farmers here so have been brought up with this. That said, never inflict any suffering if it can be avoided, treat all with respect (not sentimentality as that causes mistakes) and that's what local farms ethically tend to remember.
LongTimeLocal May 10, 2012 at 08:19 PM
There's also something interesting going on that might resolve the ethical problem. It seems we are very close to 'growing' meat in the lab, basically cloning the cells so there is no animal. Last part to crack (and it's close, is texture and tuning taste). There will probably be the easier products, like hot dogs etc, within a year or two. Scaled up, and priced right, I can see the production of painless protein being a big hit, but it does spell the limitation of many food animal breed numbers. By the way, try Quorn. This is a micro-fungus (OK, that's a nice way of saying a type of mold but give it a try - they sell it at Whole Foods in the freezer section) and is really nice, acts and tastes like meat when seasoned etc. It's very popular in Europe because people simply like it.
Karina Ioffee May 10, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Thanks for the clarification. I don't profess to be an expert in this, but was just relaying what the owner told me.
Darris May 10, 2012 at 08:47 PM
It's unfortunate that most people do not truly understand the slaughtering process. It's not pretty and it's far from humane. My experience of the slaughtering process is that the animals were keenly aware of what was going on around them. They were frightened and frantic and often times the bolt to the head did not render them ‘stunned’. Most people choose to remain ignorant of the pain and suffering connected with the animals that they eat. The quote by Sir Paul McCartney sums it up best, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” I was told by a rancher friend that they can no longer hire an arbatoir to come out to the ranch to slaughter animals that will be sold to the public. Given this restriction placed on local ranchers, having a slaughterhouse closer to home is better for both the rancher and the animals. Having a slaughterhouse in Petaluma limits the long, torturous transport that the animals would otherwise have to endure to slaughterhouses far from home. Thank you for posting this article Karina. Often times we are unaware of what goes on right in our own 'backyard'. I appreciate that you keep us in the know.
Ptown May 10, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Didn't think this article was really about a local source business expanding.
LongTimeLocal May 10, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Yes, you're right, it really isn't pretty. I can tell you preparing Sunday lunch was a different experience when I was on the family farm quite often. If pork, the animals are very aware when one of them is taken away, become very aggressive afterwards, and it takes a while for them to calm regardless of method. All I know if they do become very stressed and all we can do it limit the journey and keep it as local and humane as possible.
mikeg55 May 11, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I want my baby back baby back baby back ribsssssssssss
Janette Brown May 11, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Wow funny mikeg55.........bet it took you all day to think of that one ! LOL
Peter O'Donnell May 12, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Does anyone use carbon dioxide to gas the animals for their last sleep? Is it true animals are willing to sacrifice themselves so we grow big and strong? Are they conscious enough to offer themselves up for the barbecue? Just wondering... Does it help if we say prayers and honor them for feeding us? Didn't native americans do that in the opening of The Last of the Mohicans? So, back to my tofu....
LongTimeLocal May 12, 2012 at 04:24 AM
No idea but that's a dangerous method for the humans working there, plus inhumane as it makes any animal essentially drown and triggers that reflex - might as well push them under water as it's exactly the same experience. If you want to use gas, use an inert one that doesn't trigger the drowning mechanism and the animal would die painlessly, but once again dangerous to people. Like it or not we're the top of the food chain so meat will be eaten; personally I eat little meat and like tofu - just because I like it, nothing ethical about me. As to prayers, strict Kosher and Halal, yes as they bleed out.
Janette Brown May 12, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Peter...I do not know if you were being sarcastic or not but yes as a matter of fact there is this belief in some cultures that animals do make a conscious choose to offer there selves up for food and many people do believe in saying a prayer of thank you before eating animals. Now I already got accused of working for PETA ....which is not true.....but that said I do respect their right to their beliefs as I respect and am not closed minded about any belief...do any of us really know for sure ? I say not.
Lisa May 12, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Unfortunately Slaughtering is done by people who are pretty much cold to the whole killing of these animals.Therefore they are not taking every avenue to be sure they are not in any pain. I truely believe this business should be moved to somewhere other then the main drive into Petaluma. God forbid if they should start to slaughter horses there!! Talk about a horrible scene. When they use to have a slaughter house in Santa Rosa, it is just a panic scene. Horses are pretty smart to know something bad is going to happen to them. Mothers aborting babies. Slaughtering a pregnant mare...really?? So very sad for these precious souls.
Janette Brown May 12, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I agree with you Lisa ....every word. And to have a slaughter house right in town is so sick. Maybe the slaughter house was there before the town but none the less. I to am sad for these poor animals.
mikeg55 May 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener, That is what I'd truly like to be-ee-ee. 'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener, Everyone would be in love with me.
LongTimeLocal May 16, 2012 at 01:22 AM
That's why it's essential to have a government inspector there. There are tables defining success and they will be closed down in a heartbeat if they fall into a failing stun grade. As to horses, ever buy dog food? And right now, out of 'compassion', they are transported south of the border. Surely a local service is less stressful because. like it or not, it's going to happen. That's sentimentality inflicting stress on the animals as a result.
LongTimeLocal May 16, 2012 at 01:23 AM
And your alternative would be?
Janette Brown May 16, 2012 at 05:11 AM
You are a Oscar Mayer Wiener Mikeg55 !!! LOL just kidding
kate danaher August 13, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I recommend the book Comfortably Unaware by Dr. Richard Oppenlander. Learn how a plant based diet is essential to cooling the planet and how eating animal products is not necessary but a choice and a choice that is lose lose lose (for the animals, the planet and our health.) We choose to kill. We can choose not to and heal the planet, heal our bodies and be kind to animals. Also recommend the video Forks Over Knives www.forksoverknives.com
Justin October 30, 2012 at 08:58 AM
GOD AND THE BIBLE SAY CLEARLY! THOU SHALL NOT KILL!!!!!! And that means anything.......KILLING ANIMALS IS UNNECESARY MURDER......MANY CULTURES ARE VERY HEALTHY ON GRAINS AND PLANTS. KILL AND ANSWER TO GOD AND JESUS!!!!!!! Very clearly it says to NOT KILL!!!!! TAKE THAT DVICE TO YOUR GRAVE, in the afterlife you will dearly regret every unkind thought ior action, as well as any unforgiven action, and evil thought or action. KILLING IS EVIL. JESUS SAYS NOT TO KILL!!!! How much more clearly can God speak to each and every one of us.......Judgement day is right now!!!!! STOP KILLING ANIMALS NOW!!!!!! Embrace LOVE! Embrace JESUS, and GOD WITHIN YOU!!!!!! And even within another, even if it looks like a COW!!!!! DONT YOU GET IT!!!!! WAKE UP!!!!!! IT'S ALL GOD!!!!!!stop killing, high up on the food chain!!!!!!! ALSO ITS WAY HEALTHIER and CEANER TO EAT VEGAN......GOD BLESS US ALL ENLIGHTENED, IGNORANT BUTCHERS! MEATEATERS! AND everyone in between. SLAUGHTERHOUSES ARE EVIL! AND NOT GODS WILL....... THOU SHALL NOT KILL? PERIOD. THAT'S ALL. ALL CAPS YES! IT'S CALLED FOR.
Sioux Sarlis January 18, 2013 at 02:18 AM
The proof is in the investigations all you meat eaters...sleep well! http://animalsangels.org/
Sioux Sarlis January 18, 2013 at 02:21 AM
Here's another for ya all http://www.madcowboy.com/01_AboutPS.000.html

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