USA Beef Packing LLC, the only beef slaughter and meat processing plant in southeast New Mexico, will handle bison as well now.
“We have to look for a niche in order to survive,” said company President Jose Madrid about the business that started operating at a Cedervale Road plant in southeast Roswell about a year ago.
“The big companies are the ones who pretty much dominate the market, so we have to be out there looking for different areas, or niches, in order to be a success,” he said.
The company has signed 2019 contracts with a family ranching operation near Amarillo, Texas, that will supply the animals, according to Madrid.
USA Beef Packing also has agreed to pack bison meat for retailers and distributors, which cannot be named at this time, he said.
“We are actually bringing in business from Texas to New Mexico,” he said. “Usually you hear about all the business that goes to Texas.”
Madrid said the plant has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for handing bison and will have to have a USDA inspector on site when handling the animals, as is true with the cattle and dairy cows it has been processing since last September.
“We did have to go through about a three month set-up in the kill line and in the pens,” he said about the commodity addition. “And then training — training was very crucial in dealing with bison.”
He said the company brought in some bison experts to train its employees in the slaughterhouse, as well as some USDA specialists to train people in handling the meat.
Madrid said that USA Beef Packing will be, as far as he is aware, the only company in the region to be dealing with bison, which, according to USDA statistics, still represent a small amount of livestock raised and an very small amount of meat consumed in the United States.
The USDA 2012 census listed 162,210 head of bison raised on ranches in the United States and 9,524 head in Texas and New Mexico. A USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website indicated that the average U.S. person consumes less than a pound a year. Even at that number, though, bison sales in restaurants and retail operations totals about $350 million a year, according to the National Bison Association. Bison is touted as having high protein and low cholesterol, and Madrid said the bison grown by the ranching operation he is working with also is free of antibiotics and hormones.
“There is a possibility of creating a market in the area,” said Madrid. “And some of the distributors we have been talking with are definitely interested.”
Madrid said that the company intends to kill and process about 150 to 200 bison a month, processing those animals once a week.
The rest of the time, the plant handles beef. It now processes about 60 head of cattle and dairy cows a day, with a goal of reaching 120 head a day within two years. That includes “custom kills,” or processing animals for customers who want to use the meat themselves or sell it under their own private labels.
Certified by the USDA to handle sheep, deer and goats as well, Madrid said the plant could expand into at least one of those commodities at some point.
“We are considering doing sheep, since we are in sheep country here,” he said.
The company employs 26 people, including five managers, and has received half of the $400,000 Local Economic Development Act funds the state provided the company to renovate and open the former Pecos Valley Meats plant.
Once the company has 35 people employed on a regular basis, which also is expected to happen within two years, the rest of the funding will be released to USA Beef Packing, Madrid said.
“We are still learning and looking to improve for our training capabilities and for people to create our team,” he said. “It has been a challenging year, to say the least, but we feel we are on the right track.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.