NEK Case Study 3: Local Slaughter and Meat Processing

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Posted: June 17, 2016

Northeast Kingdom Processing: Making Meat Farm to Table Ready

When many of us think of slaughterhouses, images from Upton Sinclair’s 1906 expose of the meatpacking industry, The Jungle, probably come to mind. And it’s likely the images are not pretty.  Those days are long gone. The state-of-the-art, modern slaughter facility that is Northeast Kingdom Processing is USDA-certified, with a USDA inspector based on-site to monitor operations.

Northeast Kingdom Processing, opened in 2014, fills holes in the NEK food system as farms look for ways to diversify and add value to their products. Northeast Kingdom Processing is located in the St. Johnsbury-Lyndon Industrial Park and is also a USDA-certified organic facility.  The facility offers both slaughtering, which is the practice of killing and butchering meat, and processing, which is the cutting, wrapping, and deboning of animals. It can handle beef, hog, lamb, sheep, and goat. An on-site smoker allows the facility to further add value to the type of meat products it can process and reduces the turnaround time by one-third from slaughter to smoke rather than sending product off-site. A retail store is also located at the facility selling an assortment of locally-grown meats and dry goods.

Scott Oeschger, a local entrepreneur, started Northeast Kingdom Processing. The facility meets a need in the region for slaughtering and processing. In fact, even nationally there is a shortage of certified slaughter and process facilities. In the NEK, Brault’s Market & Slaughterhouse in Troy is the only other facility that offers similar services. It has been at least five years since the eastern part of the NEK had a facility. The proximity of Northeast Kingdom Processing to where the meat is raised helps cut down on transportation costs, keeping meat truly local, allowing it to be raised, processed, and sold for consumption within a short distance.

When Oeschger started Northeast Kingdom Processing, he also purchased Spring Hill Angus, now Spring Hill Meats, as an anchor client for the facility. Spring Hill raises Angus, meat steers, and Beefalo (a cross between a cow and a buffalo). The Angus cuts are sold on-site and sold wholesale to retailers across the state.

The facility can process up to about 30 pigs a day or 14 cows a day. The facility operates year-round with the slow season in February, but pre-scheduled commercial accounts space their processing out, which helps the facility stay active all year. There is no shortage of business, with some livestock raisers scheduling dates for slaughter sometimes six months in advance for the end of summer season.

Edmond Lessard is the facility manager. With over 20 years of experience in slaughtering, he has made a name for himself across Vermont. He estimates there are about 50 – 100 customers that use the facility throughout the year. The customers vary from hobby farmers who process one or two animals annually to large-scale commercial operators. His clients come from all over New England – from Cape Cod to the coast of New Hampshire to Enosburg Falls. Lessard prides himself on the quality of workmanship customers have come to expect from the facility.


According to Lessard, the biggest challenge Northeast Kingdom Processing faces is regulation. More specifically, failure to follow “humane handling” rules has a threat of shutting down a slaughter facility. Federal regulations are specific when it comes to how an animal must be treated before and during the slaughter. Any mistake is grounds for a violation that could cause a ripple effect delay in the processing schedule.

The slaughter industry is heavily regulated, with regulations consistently changing for facilities. Every time there is a new regulatory change, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan (HACCP) needs to be updated. The HACCP is the management system for food safety. The on-site inspector is a great resource for helping interpret regulations as they are amended.

Lessard’s other challenge? Finding and keeping a well-trained workforce. Northeast Kingdom Processing employs eight people. Being short one person is a difficult complication. If needed, the facility could employ up to 16 people. But finding qualified workers is not easy and those who are qualified are usually already employed elsewhere. Lessard instead hires employees who are “green”, those with desirable employee traits with the motivation to learn the skills needed and who can withstand the tough conditions of standing on concrete for long hours and handling meat according to the strict regulations.

Ability to Replicate

When asked if it was possible to replicate the Northeast Kingdom Processing model elsewhere, Lessard was quick to reply, “Sure!” But locally, the demand for a third NEK slaughterhouse is not evident, at least not in the near future. Being modest, Lessard downplays the important role he plays in the day-to-day operations of the facility. Finding a dedicated, experienced person like Lessard may not be easy to replicate! Nor is the ability to finance. Oeschger, a local entrepreneur with other successful businesses, financed the facility on his own through conventional means.


From its first full year to its second full year, Northeast Kingdom Processing doubled its sales using an almost exclusive word-of-mouth advertising campaign. Its prospects for continued growth in volume of animals and sales is promising. If trends towards smaller scale, specialty meat markets and homesteading continue, in 5 – 10 years, the facility may have to consider some kind of expansion or facility redesign to keep up with the demand. More customers would also mean more workers. For now, Northeast Kingdom Processing is focused on providing consistent, high quality service, taking the time to meet and talk with customers to give them what they want while performing their slaughtering to perfection. This is what keeps Lessard’s customers coming back.


The Northeast Kingdom Food System Plan is under development! This case study will be included in the Plan (draft scheduled for release July 2016) highlighting Northeast Kingdom Processing as an example of the region’s opportunities for food-based value-added processing.

Many thanks to Edmond Lessard, Manager at Northeast Kingdom Processing, for contributing to this piece.


For more information about the NEK Food System Plan, please contact Taylar Foster, Program Manager, at


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