Wisconsin’s only mobile slaughterhouse assists those in Sauk County and beyond
It was originally a 24 foot van. Some modifications have been made. It now has a 300 liter water tank. It has stainless steel sinks; a power converter. It has saws. A tool to stun. Its back is used for harvesting. The front of it is where the rail system is. The cooler too. It’s Prem Meats’ mobile “Natural Harvest” slaughter unit.
The only mobile slaughterhouse in the state of Wisconsin, Naturand a al Harvest harvests approximately 25 beef, 10 hogs and a menagerie of small ruminants each week. Headquartered in Spring Green, with a second location in Prairie du Sac, Prem Meats serves an average of 50 farms per month, with a number of them being repeat customers.
“We have several incredibly loyal customers who use our services on an ongoing basis,” says Lily Cooper, head butcher for Natural Harvest and general manager of Prem Meats’ Spring Green location. The Reedsburg resident said, “Our customers range from the one animal per year harvested for family use, to customers harvesting five to 10 animals per month for state-inspected sales through farmers’ markets or their own storefronts.”
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The Natural Harvest slaughter unit is on the road meeting customers where they need help with their meat needs.
Prem Meats started in 1972 in Bill and Sandy Prem’s garage. It was a small venison processing shop that, with time and dedication, expanded to include a retail front, selling everything from groceries to baked goods; barbecue supplies to camping supplies, drinks and frozen meat. Marty and Terry Prem, and their sons, took over the business in 2010. In 2021, they grew and expanded a secondary location in Prairie du Sac.
From their father’s professional dream that originated in his garage, another dream came from his sons’ garage: the mobile slaughterhouse.
“In 2016, Marty was approached with the idea of building a mobile battle unit,” Cooper said, “and he saw a need for the service.” Mobile slaughterhouses are fairly common, but most are not inspected by the state, limiting farmers in how they can market their beef, hogs and small ruminants.
Cooper said, “Marty worked closely with several people to design the truck to meet the requirements of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection.”
For the unit to become state certified, it must have its own HACCP plan. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food safety from biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the final product to be unsafe and designing measures to reduce these risks to a safe level.
“The state uses this as a guideline to ensure that the meat we harvest is humane and safe,” Cooper said. The facility had to be designed in a way with the same requirements for a brick and mortar facility.
Cooper said, “It took a lot of creative thinking and hard work to condense into a mobile app.”
There are a number of advantages in a mobile slaughterhouse. The USDA certified inspected meat slaughtered at the unit can be sold at local stores and restaurants; livestock are treated more humanely, as transport stress is managed or eliminated; and the transport of livestock to a brick-and-mortar slaughterhouse is eliminated.
There are challenges. While a brick-and-mortar business has a more regulated environment, with more controlled risks, a harvest truck operates in all kinds of conditions. For example, there’s Wisconsin’s weather to contend with.
“Something as mundane as bad road conditions can really set the truck back,” Cooper said.
The truck crew also grapples with different farm setups and the associated challenges that come with them.
“We are truly fortunate,” said Cooper, “to have a team that is excited to adapt to all the ever-changing risks and variables that come from being on the road, which is a valued service year-round supply.”
The unit serves much of southern Wisconsin, but has traveled further. Livestock owners pay for mileage fees.
The operation is still fresh and it has many miles to go. “We are constantly improving our truck,” Cooper said. “And the industry is always evolving. It’s going to be exciting what the future holds.”
The road still lies ahead.