Sullivan rabbit-processing facility reaches 50-year milestone
LaDonna and Pete Henson own Briarwood Valley Farms in Sullivan and are proud to be celebrating 50 years of operation.
LaDonna Henson wears many hats at work. “Pete and I are the owners, but I’m the glue that holds it all together,” she said. In the first year, only 35 rabbits were butchered, but the business recently butchered as many as 25,000 rabbits in a year. The business even stayed operational through a fire in 1988.
According to Henson, there are very few rabbit-processing facilities still in operation, and state-inspected Briarwood Valley Farms is the only one in Ohio. With so few operational facilities, Briarwood Valley Farms is able to supply rabbit meat to bigger clients in much of the eastern United States including Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Florida, and many places in Ohio. Frozen rabbit also can be purchased at their gift shop.
The Sullivan-based rabbit-processing facility produces more than rabbit meat. “If you think a rabbit-processing plant can stay alive by just selling meat, you’re mistaken,” LaDonna Henson said. “You don’t have that much poundage of meat to support the business.”
That is why Briarwood Valley Farms also supplies blood and eye components to biomedical firms. They also create rabbit-foot key chains and other products from the fur including ear muffs, hand warmers, and blankets. Many of these items are available at their gift shop.
Briarwood Valley Farms purchases rabbits from as far away as Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, but many of their rabbits are purchased in Ohio. “There is no one great big supplier. We buy rabbits from individuals and we also buy from rabbit shows,” Henson said. “In the last five years, we have purchased rabbits from more than 50 fairs throughout Ohio.” This includes the Lorain, Medina, Ashland, and Huron county fairs. “We support 4-H and the FFA by doing that,” Henson added.
Henson has a strong connection with the community, especially the kids. “We are here in Sullivan to be of service to the 4-H and FFA kids. We are here to supply meat to people who are interested in a heart-healthy meat. We are here to buy rabbits from small, local farmers and backyard rabbit hobbyists. We take in all breeds — all sizes, all color, and all year round.”