May 5, 2011 - Along with a new kind of consumer has come a new kind of rancher who needs a new kind of butcher who can not only provide the specific cuts the consumer desires, but who can also assure the rancher that the meat he gets back is from the very same cow he delivered. Large processing companies, which dominate the field today, can't afford to do that. It takes a smaller processor like Pat Rabroker at Westphalia Market.
Rabroker doesn't claim credit for seeing that more and more consumers would turn to locally-raised beef over the last decade, but he turned to custom processing at about the same time the market for local beef began to take off.
"It pretty much happened like that," Rabroker said. "It wasn't anything I really planned. I'm just a hard-headed German. I don't want to venture too far out." His great great grandfather Theodore Rabroker helped found the town of Westphalia, in Falls County, in 1879 and the Rabrokers have been there ever since.
The family has owned and operated Westphalia Market since 1963, when Pat's aunt and uncle started it. His parents took over in 1975, and Pat, co-owner by that time with his sister, took over operation of the market in 1995. Pat said his father took over the market primarily as a way to process three or four head of the Rabroker's own cattle each week.
By 1975, Westphalia Market was processing 10 to 15 cattle or hogs each week. The market processes 50 to 80 head a week now, most of it custom processing. Customers got their meat cut one way in 1975, and if they wanted it cut another way they still got it cut that one way, as was the case with most other processors and butchers.
"We have a full array of cutting deals," Rabroker said. "We have all kinds of cuts now. Some people want peppered beef or linked strips and tenders. They want it double-wrapped or vacuum-packed -- all kinds of ways. You have to be able to diversify in this business, and that's what we've done."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sales of local beef accounts for about 2 percent of the overall meat sales in the country, but demand has increased over the last few years. Along with an casino internetowe increased demand has come more small farms and ranches catering to the demand, but they need a processor who will get on the same page with them.
Jim Richardson, a successful pastured cattle and hog producer in Milam County, said that lack of access to a customer processor is one of the primary stumbling blocks for many producers looking to get a foothold in the business.
"It's hard to find a processor who will work with you so that you can give your customers what they want," he said. "A lot of times when you casino online do find one, you have to drive a long way, which burns up a lot of time and a lot of gas. We wouldn't be able to do what we do without Pat."
Judith McGeary with the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance said that the scarcity of small-scale local processors is one of the biggest hurdles for the local foods movement.
"Farmers spend months or years carefully raising animals in an environmentally sound and humane fashion, only to face the fact that the closest processor who will take their animals is hours away," she said. "The lack of local processors is due to the consolidation of most our meat supply in the hands of a few large companies and the burden of regulations that are written for the huge industrial-scale processing plants.
"If people want to have the option of buying meat from independent family farmers, we must re-build the local infrastructure of family-scale processors, which will only happen when we start enforcing antitrust laws and changing regulations to be scale-sensitive."
Rabroker's Westphalia Market is inspected five days a week during cutting hours by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Rabroker has one employee whose sole responsibility is HACP (Hazard Analysis and Control Point) compliance with government regulations. That same person sees to it that the meat from cattle and hogs that come into Rabroker's end up back in the hands of the person who delivered the animal.
"The chances of you getting meat from someone else's cow are slim to almost none," Rabroker said.
Rabroker still maintains a retail aspect to the business, which kept it going in the past when the slaughter business was slow, usually for three or four months in the summer. Now, with so few custom processors in the state, the processing part of the business rarely lags for long. He also runs a couple of wholesale trucks out of the market with a lot of the meat going to wholesalers like Waco Meat Company and eventually ending up in restaurants.
Rabroker said that the freezer is the market's biggest cost with utilities running as much as $12,000 a month.
"I'm happy if I get a light bill for $3,900. It's usually between $5,000 and $7,000, and we have a cheaper provider (REA) than a lot of other people."
Rabroker said the business has room to expand, but added that he would like to see some of the people who have brought a cow or hog in to be processed actually pick up the meat.
"You would be surprised how many people will leave it here for months without picking it up. That ends up taking up a lot of freezer space."