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Double duty for deer plant

Meat processors hire seasonal workers to keep up with demand
Wednesday, November 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

While retailers prepare for the post-Thanksgiving rush of holiday shoppers, some meat processors are already working around the clock wrapping another kind of package: cuts of venison.

“It’s a profitable time for us,” said Tim Schwennesen, owner of Tune’s Locker Plant in Centralia. “It’s just like Christmas for the stores.”

On Tuesday morning, about 60 deer carcasses hung in the cooler at Tune’s, with five waiting to be skinned. Meat cutters worked briskly and packagers tried to keep pace as hunters dropped off deer by the hour.

Schwennesen said Tune’s will process deer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the cooler is cleared.

Before it’s all over, Tune’s expects to process 1,000 to 1,200 deer.

Deer season brings in business for local processors

For local processors, firearms deer season means lots of business and lots of extra work. Schwennesen trained 10 seasonal workers before opening day. Then, when deer hunters began shooting on Saturday, he added 10 more workers to help handle the rush.

The 20 seasonal workers are a boost to Tune’s normal crew of five or six.

Schwennesen said his workers appreciate the extra work and overtime pay. He said many of them keep coming back, and some use it as a way to earn Christmas spending money.

“I’m lucky because a lot of them will come back year after year,” Schwennesen said.

Dale Jennings of Jennings Premium Meats in New Franklin said his plant employs about six seasonal workers. These workers supplement the 15 regular employees at the plant, which processes about 1,000 deer each year.

For some smaller meat plants, mid-November can mean big business. KP Processing in Harrisburg is a family-run business that centers on deer processing. Owner Larry Freeman said his business processes about 130 deer during the season.

“Deer season is pretty much the mainframe of my business,” Freeman said.

Cold weather could cause business decline

Freeman and the other deer processors all noted a decrease in the deer coming in this year. Some attributed this to cooler weather that allowed hunters to butcher deer at home, instead of having to rush to the nearest processor before the meat spoiled. Others said new rules that restrict bucks from being taken could have been a factor.

None of the local processors said they noticed an increase in the number of does brought in. But Jennings said he has seen more large deer in the range of 150 to 160 pounds.

Jennings said his business usually processes 1,000 deer, but he expects fewer this year.

“I’m thinking were going to be down a little bit, maybe by about a hundred deer or so,” Jennings said. “But we’ve got all we can handle.”


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