Butchers make room for deer

The pandemic has forced area butchers to schedule beef and hog processing until well into 2022. They had to make adjustments to accommodate deer hunters.

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January 8, 2021 - 3:04 PM

Deer processing has begun at Our Market, a grocery store and butcher shop in Humboldt that is preparing to open in the next few months. Pictured are head butcher Steve Heady, left, and owner Scott Welch. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Meat processing plants across the country have been packed since the pandemic hit in March.

So when the deer hunting season began, local butchers had to decide whether to interrupt their busy beef and hog processing to accommodate hunters. 

In Allen County, Bolling’s Moran Locker pushed back its other meat processing in favor of deer.

Our Market, which hasn’t yet officially opened its store and butcher shop in Humboldt, began offering deer processing at the start of the hunting season in December. 

But in other places, such as Woodson County Prime Meats, deer processing isn’t being offered. A representative said the decision to end deer processing actually was made a year ago because it wasn’t economical to process deer. That decision came before the influx of customers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The shop is now booked until April of 2022.

Deer processing poses unique challenges, because they must be processed fairly quickly. After a deer is killed, some hunters will dress it in the field, which means removing internal organs to prevent bacteria growth and preserve the quality of the meat.

Most hunters will take the carcass to a butcher for processing, which means meat processing facilities will need to quickly accommodate them. Hunters can’t always predict when they might shoot a deer, so appointments aren’t made in advance. 

The state offers various opportunities to hunt deer, starting in September. However, the main rifle season started in early December and ended with the close of the year. An extended deer hunting season is offered until Jan. 24, depending on location.

Our Market

Deer processing is a bit easier to butcher than beef and hogs, so it made sense to start out that way, Scott Welch said. He owns Our Market with his wife, Amy.

“Deer don’t have to be inspected. They don’t have to be weighed on the rail. You don’t need bigger pieces of equipment,” Scott Welch explained. “Deer is just a flat fee. You don’t have to worry about doing all that extra stuff.”

Though the business is new, Our Market employs a butcher who has more than 25 years of experience. Welch has fed cattle and sold butcher beef since he was 18. The idea behind Our Market is to combine a meat processing facility with a grocery store “to take out the middle man.”

The Welches live in Moran but chose to open in Humboldt because the town’s grocery store had closed, and the community lacked a local butcher shop. The Humboldt area has quite a few cattle farmers, Scott Welch said, so it made sense to give them a closer option.

“We wanted to get started so people could get their deer processed,” he said. “A lot of places around here aren’t doing deer this year.”

So far, business has been good.

“We were thrilled. We did 50 during buck season. We’ve already taken in a dozen during doe season, and from what I’ve been told it’s been kind of slow with all this wet weather and the ice storm.”

He expects the final days of the season will be busier, as hunters scramble to fill their tags.

Though Our Market hasn’t yet started offering processing services for other meats, Welch said he has a long list of customers who are interested in setting up appointments when they do open. He’s still waiting for a couple of pieces of equipment to make that happen.

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