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Kill and Chill

Kill and Chill: Restructuring Canada's Beef Commodity Chain

Ian MacLachlan
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Kill and Chill
    Book Description:

    A history of the structural changes in Canada?s cattle and beef commodity chain, beginning with calf production and cattle feeding on farms and feedlots. It goes on to describe the changes in cattle marketing and the historical development of meatpacking

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7650-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Tables
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    The meat-packing industry is the central link in a long value added chain that begins on the farm or ranch with calf production and ends when the consumer picks out a Styrofoam tray in the supermarket meat department. Adjacent links in the chain may be articulated by arm′s length market transactions or simply as an accounting entry at factory cost between two divisions of an agribusiness conglomerate. Each of the links in the value added chain has a location. This location may be a thousand kilometres from its adjacent link or it could be just across the fence or through...


    • ONE Calf Production: Breeding Beef Cows
      (pp. 13-51)

      As producers of animals, cattle people are drawn together by a common annual reproductive cycle: the fundamentals of cattle production are shared among diverse culture regions and cattle breeds. From the shaggy Highland cattle of Argyll, Scotland, to the humped Africander of South Africa, all cattle producers superimpose a 285-day-gestation imperative on the vicissitudes of world beef prices, weather, and the grassland resource. Nevertheless, there are sharp regional differences in animal husbandry practices that in some ways are deeply rooted in tradition, while being in constant flux to cope with the dynamics of the changing environment and marketplace.

      It is...

    • TWO Feedlot Alchemy: Turning Grain into Beef
      (pp. 52-87)

      Cattle feeding is a higher volume and more capital intensive phase in the value added chain than cow-calf operations. Cattle feeders take weaned calves or yearlings as their raw material and produce finished slaughter cattle at the precise weight, fat content, and body conformation required for processing. North American consumers prefer the marbled texture and pure white fat covering that only grain feeding gives. Grass-finished beef has less marbling, and its fat has a distinctive yellow tint because of the beta-carotene in grass.

      On many mixed farms, cattle feeding is a seasonal sideline to produce a source of income in...

    • THREE Cattle Logistics: From Stockyards and Cattle Cars to Auction Marts and Cattle Liners
      (pp. 88-120)

      The cattle commodity chain becomes progressively more concentrated in ownership and space as value is added. Calf production is distributed among thousands of calf producers in every province, while cattle feeding is concentrated among a few hundred large feedlots, mainly in Alberta. Cattle slaughter is still more concentrated in about a dozen large plants. Cattle producers and processors are articulated through a market and transportation system to transfer cattle between producers and processors. This is cattle logistics.

      The geography of cattle movement changed dramatically between the 1960s and 1980s. In 1960, large numbers of western cattle were still shipped to...


    • FOUR Industrialization, Regulation, and Canada′s Early Beef Packers
      (pp. 123-160)

      The meat-packing industry began to industrialize in the 1860s and 1870s in the United States, but the first large-scale meat-packing plants did not appear in Canada until the 1890s. This chapter traces the technological and entrepreneurial beginnings of the earliest meat packers in Canada through to the end of the First World War and sets the stage for the emergence of the powerful meat-packing oligopoly in the 1920s and 1930s that is described in Chapter 6.

      Until the 1890s, the production of meat from animals was a small-scale practice in Canada. The scale was limited because of the nature of...

    • FIVE The Kill Floor at Mid-century: From the Knocking Box to the Hot Box
      (pp. 161-184)

      The focus of this chapter is the organization and technology of contemporary cattle killing and dressing of the beef carcass. The overview describes the wide range of slaughter plant production scales from farm slaughter to small provincially inspected plants such as Valley Meats to very large-scale beef plants that kill up to 4,000 cattle per day. Technological change in the postwar period is outlined, highlighting the revolutionary Can-Pak system for on-the-rail dressing of beef carcasses and the adoption of the principle of humane slaughter. The chapter concludes with the inauguration of provincial meat inspection and its impact on the smaller...

    • SIX Canada′s Beef Trust: The Rise and Fall of the Big Three
      (pp. 185-213)

      The contemporary oligopolistic structure of the Canadian meat-packing industry and the significance of the structural changes in the industry cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the background of the big three: Canada Packers, Burns and Company, and Swift Canadian. These three companies emerged in the late 1920s as a national oligopoly with powerful influence in the cattle commodity markets, beef retail markets, and industrial labour markets until the 1980s. They were referred to as the ′big three,′ imitating the terminology used to refer to the big five meat packers in the United States (Perry and Kegley 1989) and sometimes as...

    • SEVEN Organizing Kill-Floor Workers and Pattern Bargaining
      (pp. 214-244)

      In the mid-1940s total labour costs approximated less than 10 per cent of revenues in the packinghouse industry (Canada Packers,Annual Reports, various years), thus wages and labour relations might appear to be of minor impact to the overall profitability of the industry. However, the profit margin on sales was only about 1 per cent, and livestock costs, some 80 per cent of revenues, varied little among the large meat packers. For these reasons, wages were a critical component of competitiveness and overall profit margins.

      Given the present anemic condition of industrial unionism in general and in packing plants in...

    • EIGHT An Industry Transformed: Meat-Packing Metamorphosis
      (pp. 245-288)

      Since the 1960s, the trend in meat-packing plants has been away from multistorey multispecies plants and towards specialization in one livestock species and often only one grade and sex. The new generation of very large-scale vertically integrated beef specialists is also distinctive for their rapid processing speed and very large scale of output. The minimum economic scale for a beef kill plant has increased continuously. In the mid-1980s, the minimum efficient plant size for a modern beef plant in the United States had been fixed at 300 to 350 head per hour or 600,000 to 700,000 cattle per year (Ward...


    • NINE Marketing Meat: From Branch House to Postmodern Retailing
      (pp. 291-325)

      The great strength of the entrepreneurial agroindustrialists who created industrial meat packing was in marketing, not in the manufacturing process itself. Philip Armour once stated that he had never held a knife in his hand: ′If you showed me a piece of meat I could not tell you what part of the bullock it came from′ (Wade 1987: 221). Gustavus Swift was a retail innovator at a time when traditional butchers cut each piece of meat to order. Swift recognized that sales would increase if meat was were cut and displayed ahead of time: The more you cut, the more...

    • TEN Conclusion
      (pp. 326-330)

      It is a long way from the Calderwood Ranch to the postmodern supermarket. But that is the nature of the commodity chain. It links diverse industries and distant regions creating production systems on a variegated economic landscape beginning with Prairie grass and ending with a consumer′s purchase decision at the supermarket meat counter. Beef consumption by the urban consumer is ultimately articulated with the environmental constraints of finite range land and biological imperatives of animal reproduction. And when consumers vote at the cash register, their preferences, no matter how contradictory, irrational, or inconsistent they may seem, are transmitted up the...

  11. References
    (pp. 331-354)
  12. Index
    (pp. 355-378)