Cutting edge of the slaughter business

Chris Hodgson in one of the abattoir freezer rooms
Chris Hodgson in one of the abattoir freezer rooms
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While it is not every young man’s choice of an ideal career, there was only one option for Chris Hodgson, as Chris Berry found out.

Fireman, farmer, doctor or engine driver – what did you want to be when you were not quite in your teens? How about being a slaughterer? It’s not really up there in the top 10 occupations is it? But being a meat man is just as necessary a role.

Chris Hodgson has recently opened up Yorkshire’s newest abattoir, CH Meats, in Sutton on the Forest near York and tried all he could to follow other jobs before coming back to what he had become used to and had enjoyed being a part of when he was just 11 years old.

He’s a farmer’s son from Rillington, where he still works with his father and mother Philip and Gail on their 160-acre arable and beef-fattening unit on a weekend.

His opening line might be taken as some kind of black humour, but to Chris it is simply matter of fact.

“It’s in my blood. I grew up watching Frank Turner, who owns the butcher’s shop and used to have his own abattoir in Rillington. I would go with Frank to help him with the sheep at agricultural shows such as Driffield, Malton and Ryedale and when I was 11, I would help with all the little jobs around his abattoir such as carrying the skins and guts away and sweeping up.

“My dad tried to steer me away from either farming or the abattoir work but I was hooked. He told me to get a career, a trade so I tried my hand at being a mechanic and being a panel beater. But I always kept coming back to this.”

Chris started working full-time for Frank Turner but left in 1999 to give other slaughterhouses a try and broaden his experience. He moved to Kirk’s in Nunnington and then over to Skegness.

“Working in different abattoirs means that you learn other things, better techniques and how butchers all want their cuts a certain way. Many of them have their own types of cuts that are particular to their business. That’s where you can win or lose trade and the best abattoirs are those that listen and provide what their customers need.”

After four years away learning more about his trade from other places, Chris returned to Frank Turner and spent from 2003 to 2006 with him until Frank made the decision to shut the slaughterhouse. EU regulations have become ever more stringent in the light of disease precautions and safeguarding consumers.

What Frank would have to have done with his abattoir to bring it up to standard and comply with the rules was too much for him.

Chris is in little doubt that if Frank hadn’t shut his abattoir and had carried on then he wouldn’t be in Sutton on the Forest now.

“His premises needed a load of alterations to reach the European standards and so he decided to concentrate on his butcher’s shop. Originally when Frank shut I was thinking about running an abattoir from Rillington, but this is much more central here.”

The days when every village had a small abattoir at the back of the butcher’s shop have long since gone and today there are only a 
handful of abattoirs left in Yorkshire.

Chris’s new premises used to house 400 sows but he 
and his team have put in a massive effort to create one of the best abattoirs around.

Everything about abattoirs is closely monitored and a meat hygiene inspector is on hand every day.

“We cannot do anything without the meat hygiene inspector here and since we kill five days a week she is here all the time.”

One of the first things you notice about Chris’ abattoir is that everyone is stood either on the ground or on platforms.

“Here everyone has to go to the spot where they need to be. There’s no bending down.

“I’ve done with those days when we’ve had to be kneeling on the floor trying to take heads off cattle.”

Processing of cattle, sheep, pigs and every now and again goats form the whole of Chris’s team’s output that goes exclusively to butchers at present. He has customers throughout Yorkshire.

“We buy for butchers at Malton, Northallerton and Gisburn livestock markets and they also send stuff in that they have bought themselves. We also get stock direct from farms.

“We’re currently just getting our cutting licence organised for producing prime cuts. Once that is under way we will be able to supply freezer orders and a boxed beef service for our butchers.

“One of the main things Frank has always told me is that if you’re going to do it, then do it right the first time.

“He has always steered me in the right direction and still buys stock for me. He taught me how to buy cattle and what to look for.

“One of the hardest things is going to market and trying to work out what an animal is going to kill out like. There are such things as looking for the depth of loin. There are other clues which can tell you whether they have been fed on barley or waste.”

At this stage Chris doesn’t get time for holidays or any lengthy break, but when he does get time off, the sport he prefers is shooting. Well it is in his blood!

Abattoir faced opposition

Chris is delighted to be in Sutton on the Forest but there was a difficult period before he was allowed to get started.

“There was a lot of opposition in the village, but I would like to thank all of the farmers who supported the application. This is now my career and my life. I have a team of five full-time staff and two part-time. I won’t leave things to chance, if one of our customers wants their cuts a certain way I will make sure they are supplied that way.”