Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Agriculture recently announced that over $7.5 million in grant funding has been awarded through the Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant (MMPIG) programs. The grants are designed to aid small and medium-sized meat processors in responding to the COVID-19 crisis through the adaptation and advancement of meat processing infrastructure and capacity in Montana. Dabuchas Outdoors of Shelby was one of those facilities, receiving grant funds in the amount of $150,000.
“I had to have the application in by July 2. I had three weeks total to get it done,” said Dabuchas owner Terrell Cotterell. “The submission was done online, I had to have a business plan and budget, a very detailed plan was required for the application.”
The main reason for the funding is to allow little shops to increase their capabilities to do more processing. In Cotterell’s case, his abilities were limited by his cooler and freezer space. Due to the size of his operation he and his crew can only cut so much per day. Cotterell’s crew consists of himself, two cutters, a part-time wrapper and a clean-up person.
“I can keep the employees busy,” said Cotterell. “But we have to be able to process it quick enough. I have a good crew. I usually don’t have a full crew until now, but this year I have since April, first part of May, due to the increase in demand.”
“Cotterell said his shop has seen a 500 percent increase since this time last year and there is no slowing up in sight. Commercial processing has gone up, but people are buying animals for cheap and are having them privately processed. With the funds awarded by the grant Cotterell will be able to increase his intake and provide his services to more people in the area. His ultimate goal?
“The funding will allow expanded refrigeration, but also a kill floor,” said Cotterell.
Cotterell’s plan includes knocking out a wall and making a chilled, cutting room floor. A bigger freezer, able to hold more product, is also in the plan. Another wall will come down and the shop will expand out to provide the space needed to make that happen.
The deadline for construction is Dec. 30, 2020, which has Cotterell currently looking into architects, permits from the City and researching steel construction buildings.
“We could get the cement pads laid and the steel building put up by October and then work on the inside during the winter,” he said. “Most of the construction will take place this fall and during hunting season. We will be done by deadline and will still be cutting during the process.”
Expanding his operation is good news for the community in more ways than one. Cotterell is also planning on having to expand his crew as things get bigger and more work is coming in.
“This is good for the community,” said Cotterell. “I will have to hire more people, the tax base will go up with expansion. I would like to become a state-inspected facility so we can sell for retail.”
Being state-inspected has a lot of requirements but Cotterell is hoping to be able to meet them, it is in his big plan.
“But conforming to State and Federal regulations can be more than what a custom shop can get away with,” said Cotterell. “If I could get it then I could offer something the grocery stores cannot, local beef, pork and lamb. If I can get State inspected I can buy local animals and sell retail. Right now there are no state-inspected facilities around for 80 miles or better.”
For now the main focus is on the construction project at hand. The money will spend quickly on construction and equipment, as both are more expensive than most can imagine. Cotterell would also like a patty machine, in addition to the larger cooler and freezer, but before equipment comes the building expansion and construction.
“That’s what you do,” he smiled. “You invest in your business. I’ve taken out some small loans over the years to put in equipment, the rails and the smokehouse. When I first started in 2007 I only did wild game. I got the rail and licensed and started taking domestic animals in 2013.”
Cotterell is looking forward to having the additional space, a kill floor and being able to take on more work. He said if he has the capacity he would be able to do the 4-H pigs, lambs and goats as well. Right now most go to Kalispell as he just does not have the room to store them or a kill floor.
“People just have no other option right now,” he said. “I’m looking to change that.”
Cotterell is researching the regulation on a kill floor, which he currently does not have, as it has to meet USDA standards on everything and be state inspected. Having the floor would open the door to even more opportunities for the business.
The next few months are going to be crazy as Cotterell and his crew embark on this adventure. The meat cutting will continue as the building it’s done in gets an expansion. There are some limiting factors due to COVID, but he can apply for an extension on the project, if needed.
“My plan is to just have it done,” said Cotterell. “It’s exciting and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an interesting next few months, a whole new game for me, I won’t be sleeping well until it’s done.”
Cotterell has been a meat cutter for over 30 years, learning at a young age from some of the best, using his skills at Albertsons as the meat department manager and then opening Dabuchas Outdoors in 2007. Currently the facility is on pace for a record year and with the grant funding things are about to get even bigger.
“I’m really excited about this, especially with how much it can help the community,” he concluded. “Everyone deserves quality cut, good meat.”