Local farmers met at Shipley Farms in Vilas on June 26 to discuss a collaborative plan between Shipley Farms, other local beef farmers, the N.C. Cooperative Extension and Cole’s Meat Processing to open and begin operating a butchery in Watauga County by July 15.

Led by Shipley Farms, but a separate enterprise from its farm operations, Watauga Butchery came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted closures of meat processing facilities and delays in slaughterhouses.

Bob Shipley, owner of Shipley Farms, said that the community’s regular meat processors are backed up until July 2021. This means that local farmers are unable to have their animals slaughtered and packaged for sale to either retail operations or Boone restaurants.

“If we hadn’t come up with a solution, we’d be out of business,” Shipley said. The gathered farmers, made up of individuals from across the High Country, nodded their heads or voiced their agreement.

Shipley, along with his son, Gray, and N.C. Cooperative Extension Livestock Expert Eddy Labus, presented their plan for making the lives of Watauga County farmers easier.

The long-term plan includes utilizing the Watauga Butchery for all livestock in the county, but short-term, according to Shipley, it will focus on beef harvesting and processing.

Kenny Cole, owner of Cole’s Meat Processing and director of operations for Watauga Butchery, says that expanding his operations will bring “as many jobs as it takes” to Watauga County and his facility.

Farmer and Watauga County Commissioner Billy Kennedy said, “We need this in Watauga County. We need the jobs, and we need to process our food here.”

One obstacle that Watauga Butchery faced during its planning stage is that Cole’s Meat Processing doesn’t have its own kill floor for slaughter. This is being overcome through partnerships with Mays Meats in Taylorsville and AB Prime Cuts in Wilkesboro, both of which have the kill floor capacity but lack the ability to process the carcass.

“We’ll figure out the best way to transport the animals to one of the slaughterhouses, then bring them back to Watauga for aging, cutting and packing,” Shipley said, noting that, as a team, the farmers may be able to help one another with delivering animals for harvest.

Some limitations come with utilizing Watauga Butchery, including the animal’s weight and age. Carcasses should not weigh more than 700 pounds or be older than 30 months to be processed by Watauga Butchery. Dry aging is also limited to 3-7 days in most cases.

The harvest fee, collected by Watauga Butchery and paid to the partners in Taylorsville or Wilkesboro, will be $85, and reserving a spot for processing will cost $25 to ensure as many appointments are kept as possible, according to Shipley.

Additionally, the Shipleys outlined a membership plan in which Watauga County farmers would be able to pay an annual membership fee of $300, if they harvest more than eight animals per year, in order to receive a 10 percent discount on processing fees.

With questions, or for more information, email meats@wataugabutchery.com or call the N.C. Cooperative Extension at (828) 264-3061.

The Boone Chamber of Commerce will hold a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony for the butchery on its Facebook page on Wednesday, July 8.

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