Have knives and hooks, will travel
by Laura Paskus
Name The Mobile Matanza
Hometown Taos, New Mexico
Measurements 36 feet long by 13 feet, 6 inches tall
Items on her wish list Gloves, hook-eye sharpener, meat band saw blades, meat grinder plates, three-way oilstone, platters, long butchering aprons, butchering supplies and knives, brushes and scrapers.
She’s sleek, full-figured and gleaming white, though not exactly sexy. From nose to rear, she measures a firm 36 feet, all polished metal on the inside. She can accommodate 10 at a time — 10 animal units, that is — and she has her own inspection table and, toward the back, an offal chute.
She’s the Mobile Matanza — a rolling livestock butchering unit and the pride of Taos County. The Taos County of skiing Texans and sticker-shock real estate is still the Taos County of family ranchers, many of whom eke out a living on fewer than 100 acres, running their cattle on northern New Mexico’s forests in the summer. Most of them then send their livestock off to feedlots and slaughterhouses in other states, where the animals are subsumed into the mass meat market. But the Taos County Economic Development Corporation would like to change all that.
With funding from the state, the corporation’s directors, Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand, have found a way to bring the butcher to the ranchers and perhaps the meat to expanding local markets. Beginning this spring, cattle, pigs, lambs, goats, even bison, will trot up the ramp leading into the back of the Mobile Matanza, where they’ll be met by Lee Knox, coordinator of the program.
Grinning boyishly, Knox shows off the Mobile Matanza. He looks the part of a truck driver/butcher, with a black cowboy hat that pushes him well beyond six feet tall, and a wide girth that indicates he’s capable of wrestling just about any animal reluctant to go to slaughter.
Once Knox has killed and butchered his four-legged client, an on-site state inspector examines its organs and the entrails go out the offal chute. From there, the meat is placed in a room toward the front of the trailer, the doors are closed, and the next animal is led into the trailer.
It’s a completely self-contained unit. Knox walks along the passenger side of the trailer and shows off another room toward the cab of the truck. Inside is a 300-gallon water tank, a 10-gallon acid wash tank (apple cider vinegar, he explains), a diesel generator and its 50-gallon fuel cell.
"When we come out to the ranch, the rancher doesn’t have to provide anything, he doesn’t have to have water, electricity," says Knox. "I have my own electricity, own power wash pump, refrigeration unit, hot water heater — and the diesel generator is sound-enclosed, so it’s real quiet."
Hopping down from the driver’s side of an International 9200 truck, Michael, a rancher from Alcalde dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt, yells out: "That’s one fancy rig!"
Michael peppers Knox with questions as he tries to figure out if the program could work for him and his herd of 25 mother cows: "What have you guys thought about the waste?" (Knox favors composting it or working with a biodiesel producer in Colorado). "Have you figured out prices already?" (Knox is still comparison-shopping, then factoring in the cost of gasoline.) "Are you going to have a centralized place to store (the meat)?" (The development council is building a cut-and-wrap facility on its grounds and has ordered an enormous Polar King freezer.)
"Okaaaaay," says Michael. "That’s what I was worried about, that’s what’s going to make this ideal."
Another curious rancher, Erminio Martinez, is clearly impressed by the Matanza. His family has been ranching for generations — today, he runs cattle and sheep in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and near Arroyo Seco, N.M. — and it’s hard, he says, for rural ranchers to travel 60 to 100 miles to bring their animals to butcher, then to process and store the meat. "To have local access to the matanza," he says, "well, that’s not just good for the private individuals, it’s good for the community."
The author writes from Albuquerque, New Mexico.© High Country News