HURON, S.D. — When Dakota Provisions opened its new 150,000-sq. ft. turkey slaughter/meat processing plant in Huron, S.D., in April 2006, the facility was lauded for being the first turkey slaughter/processing plant to be built in two decades. But value-added raw or pre-cooked turkey is just one of the proteins the facility processes. The company also co-packs value-added raw or precooked beef, pork and chicken products for foodservice and retail — including natural and organic ready-to-eat products — as well.

Equally significant, the company continues moving toward its goal of becoming primarily a processor of ready-to-eat products. "We call ourselves Dakota Provisions because we’re not a turkey company," Ken Rutledge, president and chief executive, said during the grand opening festivities. "Our intention is to be in the turkey, pork, beef and chicken processed meat businesses. We want customers to think of us as a food business."

And business continues growing. Dakota Provisions is currently introducing a new line of value-added, retail products to South Dakota retailers under its own Prairie Grown brand. Dave Janson, new director of sales and industry sales veteran who joined the company in May 2009, identifies the products.

"Prairie Grown offers three turkey products — Oven Roasted, Smoked and Honey. We also offer pork ham products — Smoked Honey and Virginia Smoked. And we do some roast beef, too," Janson says. The company hopes to eventually expand distribution on this line.

Many technological innovations separate this facility from other meat and poultry plants. Dakota Provisions built a patented carbon dioxide (CO2) controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) system for turkeys.

Birds enter the plant in three-high batteries, holding 45-48 birds per battery. The batteries are removed from trucks by forklift equipment and placed on a line and automatically moved through a three-chambered stunning cabinet containing various levels of CO2 and humidity in each chamber. After the birds are fully asleep but still alive, the batteries are lifted, the birds slide out onto the conveyors and are placed in shackles for movement to slaughter.

The CO2 unit can control the number of birds, level of CO2 and humidity, time required and speed of the system. Camera systems continuously record the operation.

"We don’t utilize backup systems, such as electrical stunning, because putting an electrical stunner in our plant would cause us to take a step we think would be incorrect in terms of humane handling of the birds," Rutledge says.

For more information, look for the cover feature on Dakota Provisions in the Meat Processing Operations & Engineering section in the August issue of MEAT&POULTRY.