Meat processors struggle to keep up with demand


By Kiley Carroll, The Sheridan Press (WY)

Oct 12, 2020


SHERIDAN — The U.S. Department of Agriculture livestock board predicted a record-setting red meat and poultry production year for 2020, indicating large economic growth and low unemployment rates as the demand for processed meat grew.


But no one could have predicted the lasting effects COVID-19 would have on the United State’s food supply or the bright future it’s begun to pave for local producers and meat processors.


“I think it scared a lot of people going to the grocery store and they couldn’t find what they were looking for,” said Wendy Bocek, owner of Valley Meat Co. “Now we’re scheduled out further than we ever have been and people are still calling and we can’t get them in.”


Valley Meat is not the only meat processing company that has seen a dramatic influx of work in recent months.


“If you want to look for the silver lining for the pandemic, it’s that it’s kept us busy enough to keep our knives going and paid throughout the entire year,” said Lindsee Hoffman, plant manager of Big Horn Meat Cutting. “We are already booked out through next year.”


Ranchers, too, are seeing the benefits.


“It gets us to the end goal without multiple middlemen, our meat in your freezer and you know exactly where it came,” said Patrick Pearce, a rancher on Wolf Creek.


Wyoming isn’t only seeing large amounts of beef processed. Hoffman noted that pork became a hot commodity during the meat shortage, too.


She noted that she had seen ranchers struggling to find customers for about 300 finished pigs when all of a sudden people were coming out of the woodwork to purchase the meat.


With hunting season in full swing, too, local butchers have to make additional room and time for both in-state and out-of-state hunters alongside local producers.


“Our out-of-state hunters are phenomenal,” Hoffman said. “These gentlemen come in, hunt, enjoy our towns and then donate hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of meat that will go to food pantries across the region in the next month, making sure there is plenty of meat and forks to go around for all of us.”


As of September, the supply of beef in Wyoming has continued to grow as well. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association reported that in the last year, the state produced around 75,000 head of grain-finished cattle to be processed.


George Connolly, a rancher from Sheridan agreed that he’s seen a large influx in demand locally for his beef.


“I usually have some wiggle room when someone comes to me for a beef or a half of a beef, but in the last few months I’ve had consistent buyers who’ve just kept me out of stock so when anyone else approaches me about buying processed meat I can’t make it happen,” Connolly said.


The high demand, though, isn’t without issues.


Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said...