VANDERHOOF – A cut-and-wrap business that started as a side hustle to process animals on their farm has morphed into a licensed meat processing facility for Matthew and Brittany Giesbrecht and a critical service for local farmers and hunters.
“It’s a godsend,” says Korey Martens of Broken Horn Farm east of Vanderhoof. “Before these guys got started, there was an abattoir here in town but to have [animals] government-inspected was up to a year wait.”
The Speckled Sow Butchery and Market changed that for Martens, whose family raises beef cattle, pigs and chickens on 80 acres about 20 kilometres outside Vanderhoof. They provide the Giesbrechts with beef and pork for their farmstand.
The Giesbrechts grew up in the area hunting and farming, and were acutely aware of the lack of meat processing facilities in BC, especially in the north. Their background, paired with their entrepreneurial spirit, set them up well for their new venture.
“My husband’s a heavy-duty mechanic and I was a school bus driver, and we both knew that we wanted to … work for ourselves,” Brittany Giesbrecht says. “We both grew up very avid hunters and I grew up on a farm doing 4-H and all that stuff. So, we we’ve been around the butchering and the slaughtering end of things our whole lives.”
Fortuitously, a butcher in town was retiring so, in 2017, the couple decided to buy the equipment and process their own animals without the worry of securing slaughter dates elsewhere.
“Then we started kind of putting two and two together where we were like, hey, we want to start a business for ourselves; maybe it would be really good to start reaching out to the community and friends and family and maybe seeing if they need stuff processed as well,” Giesbrecht says.
As new homeowners at the time, the potential for some extra income was inviting, too.
“It kind of snowballed from there. We decided to take the plunge and build a shop on our property,” Giesbrecht says.
The couple ended up quitting their other jobs , purchased equipment and began booking slaughter dates in July 2022. They started off with custom cut-and-wrap but knew that slaughter was also a bottleneck in northern BC. In August, the couple obtained a Farmgate Plus licence for cattle, hogs, sheep and lambs. The licence allows them to slaughter up to 25 animal units annually and sell products provincially.
According to the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the province has 163 provincially licensed meat processing facilities, including 55 facilities with an Abattoir licence, 101 with a Farmgate Plus licence and seven with a Farmgate licence.
The Giesbrechts have a farm market on site, where people can buy local goods as fudge, flowers, bread and eggs, along with beef, pork, chicken and lamb that they’ve sourced from local producers.
As self-taught business owners and meatcutters, starting up a processing facility was a steep learning curve. But as the couple found their groove – and immense support in the community – they’ve been happy to support local producers and hunters year-round.
Indeed, the couple are passionate about giving back to their community. They judged the swine classes at the Vanderhoof 4-H show and auction on August 12 following the cancellation of the 2023 Vanderhoof Fall Fair due to wildfire concerns in the region.
“Every single one of these kids have done an amazing job and should be very very proud of themselves,” the Giesbrechts say in a Facebook post. “Our job was very difficult with the amount of amazing animals we had to judge. We hope we were able to spread a little bit of knowledge from a butcher’s perspective and that each of the kids had as much fun as we did!”
After the show, they bought about 40 project animals, including hogs, lambs and a few beef cattle. The beef were processed by the Country Locker in Vanderhoof and Chilako Meats in Prince George.
“I have a real soft spot for those two. They were at the
4-H auction this weekend and they were buying things up,” Martens says. “They’re in the community, supporting kids … they got huge hearts. … And they’re supplying a much-needed business here that we’re excited to be part of, for sure.”
As a result of their presence in Vanderhoof, the Giesbrechts were one of this year’s Business Impact Award winners as part of the 20th annual Small Business BC Awards.
“We were really shocked. Definitely, like if it wasn’t for our community, and all of the support, we would be nothing. We take our hats off to our community and Vanderhoof and surrounding areas because they have cheered us on right from the get-go and we’ve had such an amazing response from them,” Giesbrecht says. “When we won, it kind of made us feel like, wow, we’re actually putting good into the world and we’re doing something that people really appreciate. It was really humbling.”