BARNSTEAD — Although the rain soaked the mud outside the nearly completed building on South Barnstead Road last Friday afternoon, the owners who were working on the inside of their USDA-certified slaughterhouse and butcher shop were cheery and optimistic about the near completion of one of their lifelong dreams.
Owning and operating The Local Butcher — a family-friendly local slaughterhouse and butcher shop — has been one of Kristi and Russ Atherton's goals since the two met in college at UNH's Thompson School in the early 1990s.
"I lived in the dairy barns," said Russ Atherton.
"And I lived in the poultry barn," said Kristi Atherton.
Thompson School of Applied Science is the agricultural arm of the University of New Hampshire, which was, according to the UNH website, founded in 1866 as one of the early land-grant colleges established for the children of farming and laboring families. The Athertons said it is common for some of the students who attend "T-School" to live in the small living quarters set up in the various barns on the agricultural campus.
The Athertons bought a farm house on South Barnstead Road after selling their share of a dairy farm in Lee. The slaughter house is south of the home located close to the road. He said if The Local Butcher were to slaughter only cows, it will be big enough to accommodate 30 cows per week.
The USDA moniker is the key to the Athertons enterprise. All meat that is processed for resale in the United States must be slaughtered at a USDA-certified slaughter house.
"The government employee will have his or her own office and all work will be done when he or she is on site," explained Russ Atherton, showing a good sized room for the inspector's office.
Atherton said that they will primarily process cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs — what are commonly referred to as "amenable" species. He said poultry has its own set of regulations and The Local Butcher will not be processing it. He said some "exotic animals" — like red deer and bison — can be processed at his slaughterhouse but will get a different stamp from the USDA. He expects to have five employees.
There are three other slaughterhouses in New Hampshire — one in Goffstown, one in North Haverhill (that was part-time in Vermont but relocated over the border and became full-time) and one in North Conway.
While some have questioned the need for a fourth USDA-certified slaughterhouse in New Hampshire, the Athertons believe there is plenty of business in New Hampshire — especially in the central part of the state.
He said there are a number of smaller family farms that will be looking to send their animals for slaughter and with The Local Butcher being centrally located, he said many of them will find it less expensive in terms of hauling, fuel and time.
While he agreed the typical slaughter season is autumn, mostly because it is expensive to feed animals through the winter, he said there is demand for services year round.
He said some smaller family farms can't get space in one of the other area slaughter houses during the height of the season and many New Hampshire farmers have geared their slaughter schedule so they can always have some of their product on the market, a move that also levels the price of meat.
"But, without a doubt, we'll be busiest in September and October," he said.
Atherton said The Local Butcher will be a complete processing plant with the exception of smoking services. He said there are three smokehouses in Barnstead, each with its own type of flavor, and he would be referring customers if they ask.
The Local Butcher will be a "soup-to-nuts" operation. He said the animals will be housed in one pen and processed right through to hamburg and sausage. There will be a butcher and a meat wrapper so, should a customer choose, his or her animal products will be market-ready.
Atherton said even supermarkets, who until recently often butchered their own beef at the store from sides provided from meat producers, who are now looking for meats to come packaged and "ready for the case."
The Athertons are also working on their own sausage recipe.
During a 30-day intensive course slaughtering course Russ Atherton took at Cornell University over the winter, he said flavoring sausage was one of the classes and he learned a number of different recipes.
"I'm really hoping to come up with a great recipe for my clients," he said.
The Athertons said they couldn't say enough nice things about the people in Barnstead who have helped them in every way.
"Everytime we turned around, someone was there to give us some help," said Russ Atherton.
The Athertons have two children who they said are pretty excited about the slaughterhouse and farming in general. He said at this point in time, the family has no plans to raise any animals for their own consumption.
The Local Butcher should be open for business by September.
CAPTION: ( Barnstead Slaughterhouse) Russ and Kristi Atherton of South Barnstead Road stand in what will be the chute area for the newest USDA-certified slaughter house in New Hampshire. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)