December 12, 2014
Although he doesn’t hunt anymore, Andy Shaw saw more deer this fall than most. Of course, none were alive.
Shaw operates Cypress Valley Meat Company with Steve Goode, and the deer-processing business is good. With more deer being killed and busy schedules of hunters seeking convenience, the industry has grown over the past decade.
Cypress Valley, a USDA inspected facility, proves there is demand in the county, which is mostly rural with several mid-sized cities. Hunters have brought an estimated 100 tons of deer to the barn-sized metal building off Hwy. 64.
“We’re up to 1,700 deer,” Shaw said. “By the end of the season, we’ll have a record year, somewhere north of 2,000 deer.”
Deer processors like Cypress Valley have a hectic three-month period, from the first bow hunts in late September to the final Christmas hunts.
“For a short period of time, it gets pretty crazy,” Shaw said. “Especially the first part of gun season, everybody is out and they got deer fever.”
Shaw works to please customers so they return, and that includes a quick turnaround, a variety of options in products and assurances that customers get venison from the deer they killed.
“I think people want to know that they’re getting their own deer meat back,” he said. “We take great pride, when you bring your deer in, it’s not batch processed.”
Cypress Valley charges by the pound, getting close to 50 pounds of meat for every 100 pounds of deer, and Shaw said maximizing the meat is another top priority.
“There’s a lot of great processors out there, but we go an extra mile to try to get every bit of meat off the bone,” he said. “One time my uncle came in and he picked up some bones out of our bone barrel, and said if a dog had to eat these bones, it’d starve to death. We laughed, but we kind of use that as our motto.”
The popularity of Cypress Valley’s work has spread mostly word of mouth. For being at his current location for only four years, Shaw and crew have built a solid reputation and get deer from some distant counties. It keeps them working long hours every day of the week at the full-service shop. It helps that they will take deer minutes after they’re killed.
“We try to offer a high level of convenience for you,” Shaw said. “You can go shoot the deer and drop it off. We’re going to skin it, gut it, wash it, chill it for you. Then we’re going to process it, vacuum seal it, put it into a box with your name on it and customer number. We take it straight to the freezer and that ensures freshness.”
Charging by the pound makes prices more reasonable and fair for those with smaller deer, and there’s a maximum charge for processing. Skinning costs another $20 and gutting and skinning is $25.
The variety of products runs the gamut, from regular grind to flavored summer sausages to brats and polish sausage and snack sticks. They have batches of beef and pork fat to add into their recipes.
“We give our customers a variety to choose from. Our most popular is our cheese and jalapeno, but we do regular and the cheese only,” Shaw said “Something we’ve done that’s kind of unique, we offer snack sticks. We do a BBQ, a teriyaki, TexMex, a habanero and cheese. That’s been a big success for us.”
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Customer Mark Hoffman, picking up meat from his buck and doe, had a box of steaks that he likes to stuff with jalapeno and cream cheese before wrapping with bacon and grilling.
“The kids think it’s like ordering pizza,” Hoffman said.
His order also included teriyaki snack sticks and the jalapeno and cheddar summer sausage.
“The summer sausage, my entire family likes it,” he said, adding he enjoys the convenience and gets it for a fair price.
Deer hunting forums in the region recommend Cypress Valley’s summer sausage and add it’s run by good folks.
Three days after the final day of firearm season in the zone, ice chests were stacked high wall to wall between several huge refrigeration units, one with deer hanging and two freezers full of orders ready to be picked up. The coolers were stacked and sectioned off by color. On each was a strip of duct tape with the customer’s name and their order number.
Craig Weinbrenner, who’s worked with Shaw for years, is responsible for taking customers orders and keeping them straight. Shaw is rather selective in the workers he hires because the three-month stretch is a real grind. Most are asked to work 10 to 15 hours a day and seven days a week.
“Our biggest struggle, being a seasonal processor, is staffing,” Shaw said. “You want to get great people who buy into the philosophy …. to be the No. 1 processor in the state.”
There are about a dozen people on the staff, and several more work evenings to drain and re-ice the coolers. A crew comes in to clean and sanitize nightly.
“Our guys, we try to get some good, experienced meat cutters in here, and we get some great personalities that we can train and take pride in what we do,” Shaw said. “We’ve built a pretty good reputation. We think a great reputation, and we get people who want to take part in that.”
Shaw, who also operates two other processing facilities nearby in Romance and Hot Springs, said he strives to bring a family atmosphere to the workplace, and when a customer gives compliments, he passes them on to the crew.
“When you’re in a small cutting room, you spend a lot of time together,” he said. “We want everybody to enjoy everybody else’s company.
“When we get comments and positive feedback, we share that with them. We want them to know they’re part of that. Get them to buy into we’re doing something that’s special.”
Starting as a meat cutter at grocery stores, Shaw wanted to learn more about the business, so he went to work in a packing house.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I liked the work and learning about the muscle structures and the processing from start to finish. We started doing a little bit (deer) on the side behind my mom and dad’s. We converted a barn into a little processing place, just doing it for friends and family.”
That grew into a full-fledged business, and he and Goode were looking at their current building four years ago and wondering if they could process 300 to 400 deer.
“I felt pretty comfortable that even the first year we could do 400 deer,” Shaw said. “Without any advertising, we did 700.”
It’s grown. A quick turnaround and tasty products helped garner more customers. Shaw said the first deer coming in can be ready for pickup in a couple of days, and with the rush after firearms season that wait has climbed to about two weeks, depending on the specialty items ordered.
They’ve reinvested with equipment like a huge flash freezer that stays around 10 below, and recently purchased a large industrial vacuum sealer that retails for about $15,000.
“Nothing beats the vacuum sealing to ensure freshness,” Shaw said. “It’s been huge for us.”
Cypress Valley also will process donated deer meat to give to food bank programs. All the bones and scraps are picked up nightly for rendering.
Sure, Shaw’s chosen business doesn’t allow him any more time in the deer woods, but he still gets to see plenty of deer.