New $67m slaughter plant stuns visitors

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 08:14 10/04/2013
Silver Fern Farms
Mark Taylor/FAIRFAX NZ

Meat works: Silver Fern Farms’ staff process beef at the company’s Te Aroha meat processing plant.

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Like any good cow cocky, Russell Wilson chooses his words carefully.

But the Kereone dairy farmer looked momentarily lost for words yesterday after taking a tour of Silver Fern Farms' new Te Aroha beef processing plant.

Mr Wilson was among 600-800 "curious locals" to get an up-close look inside the company's $67-million operation.

"It's unbelievable," Mr Wilson said after the 40-minute tour, which included a walk past the plant's slaughter floor.

"I've gone into a few processing plants over the years but the modern technology that they've put into this plant is incredible. And it's clean, you see staff constantly washing down so each carcass is clean."

Even for visitors with only a passing interest in meat processing, the scenes inside the plant were remarkable.

On the slaughter floor, teams of men and women could be seen working seamlessly, cutting and trimming large carcasses suspended from hooks; their knives moving over the carcass with remarkable speed and precision.

Plant manager Lance Warmington said a lot of future-proof planning had gone into the plant with a nod to expansion in the future.

"A lot of times when people build plants they don't take the blinkers off and that can restrict what can be added on in the future. Here, we've considered the ‘what ifs' and so if we need to expand we can, for example, put chillers along the side of the building without having to knock walls down."

The plant was opened in December last year by Prime Minister John Key and is a third bigger than the plant that was gutted by fire in December, 2010.

Mr Warmington said the plant injected $13 million of wages into the local economy and processed cows, bulls, steers and heifers from suppliers across the Waikato.

"Today is about opening our doors and showing the community what they've got on their doorstep.

"Hopefully young people will come through and think, ‘This is a place I'd like to come and work'."

Silver Fern Farms hub engineering manager John Perrins said the plant was designed to be energy-efficient, using the same amount of water as the old, smaller plant.

The slaughter floor was also divided into two parts to ensure dirt and the cows' hide did not come into the clean slaughter floor area.

"There isn't another slaughter house in New Zealand like this.

"At the end of the day we've built something nobody else has done," Mr Perrins said.

 

AT A GLANCE

Silver Fern Farms Te Aroha beef processing plant: New $67-million beef processing operation designed to process cows, bulls, steers and heifers. Currently employs 369 staff. Will employ 380 staff when operating at full capacity. Plant expected to process 125,000 cattle a year. Staff can process an animal in 90 minutes. Equipment designed to support a 1300kg carcass weight.

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