Prineville butcher stays unique with custom cuts

Jeff McDonald / The Bulletin /

PRINEVILLE - The meat-processing business has changed since Don Berman got his first job in the business in 1959 cleaning up after a local butcher.

”In the old days, every town had a slaughterhouse for local stores and restaurants,” said Berman, 62, who co-owns Butcher Boys, a slaughterhouse and processing facility in northwest Prineville.

Since then, national slaughterhouses have driven many small, local operations out of business, he said.

In Central Oregon, there are only two U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified slaughterhouses and processing facilities: the Butcher Boys and Oregon Beef Co. in Madras. Otherwise, stores and restaurants in the area get their meats from larger-size processing facilities outside of the region.

”Now we can't compete” on price and efficiency, Berman said.

Berman and his son, Lanny Berman, 36, have owned and operated the Butcher Boys since 2001. The business operates out of a 1930s-built plant located on a ridge above the Crooked River.

While it takes larger slaughterhouses only 11 seconds to kill and prepare an animal for processing, the Butcher Boys' slaughtering process takes 15 to 20 minutes, Don Berman said.

The Butcher Boys can't compete financially with the larger slaughterhouses, but it has found its niche in making custom cuts, he said.

Fall and early winter are the busiest time of year for the Butcher Boys because grass and hay are in short supply and livestock that were bought in the spring are ready for processing, according to Berman.

Butcher Boys slaughters and processes about 700 cows per year. It also processes some hogs, goats, sheep, buffalo and elk, Berman said.

”You don't want to think about what you're doing,” he said Wednesday inside the plant's steamy confines. ”We all eat Saturday beef.”

Central Oregon's livestock industry grossed $49 million in sales in 2005, according to the Oregon Agricultural Information Network.

Most ranchers in Central Oregon auction their livestock to operators of larger feedlots.

But ranchers who want to sell their meat directly to consumers can take their animals either to the Butcher Boys or Oregon Beef.

Every animal slaughtered and processed at the facility receives a USDA stamp of approval, said Pete Avilla, a federal food inspector who monitors the facilities for cleanliness and certifies that the slaughtered animals are disease-free.

The federal stamp allows livestock owners to sell their meat products to restaurants, grocery stores and farmers' markets, Avilla said.

After the kill, Butcher Boys cuts the meat according to customers' written instructions.

”Most of the beef that people buy in stores comes from giant feedlots and slaughterhouses” in the Midwest, Berman said. ”You could probably go to the store and get your meat cheaper, but you know exactly what you're eating when you get it here.”

The company charges $50 for slaughtering a cow and $35 for a lamb and pig, he said. It charges an additional 48 cents per pound for processing all meats, Berman said.

Butcher Boys raised prices last month after Redmond Tallow, a rendering facility that picked up two to three loads of unused animal parts per week, closed its doors.

Redmond Tallow charged $60 per month, compared with Darling International Inc., an Irving, Texas-based rendering company that Butcher Boys paid $225 per pickup, Berman said.

Butcher Boys has since turned to the Crook County landfill for temporary dumping of its animal remains, he said, adding that he would like to see a new rendering facility open in Central Oregon.

The lack of a rendering plant makes it tougher to compete with larger-size processors, such as Tyson Foods Inc., Berman said.

Matt Borlen, owner of Alfalfa-based Borlen Cattle Co., uses the Butcher Boys for killing, cutting and wrapping his beef for sale to the Deschutes Brewery Public House in Bend, as well as stores and farmers' markets, he said.

For Borlen, the advantage of using the Butcher Boys is the local convenience.

”It ties the whole community together,” he said. ”When someone buys a burger at Deschutes Brewery, they know it's raised on our 80-acre ranch. We raised that calf from conception all the way until it's slaughtered at the plant.”

The local connection also has boosted sales at Oregon Beef, said Stann Dmytryk, owner of the slaughterhouse and processing facility, located behind Bi-Mart on the south end of Madras.

In business since 1982, Oregon Beef processes roughly 250 head of cattle per year, plus sheep and hogs, Dmytryk said.

The company sells and processes meat to customers ranging from ranchers to restaurants, resorts, hospitals and assisted-living facilities, he said.

”It's definitely a niche market for our customers to have daily conversations with the person that's processing,” he said.

Hunters also bring deer and elk to the facility that they want slaughtered, processed and sold to friends and relatives, Dmytryk said.

”Generally, our customers are looking for quality versus price,” he said. ”They can't take five or six cattle back to Nebraska and say they want their beef cut a certain way. They come to us because they want a good finish job.”