Wild is the name of the game

Exotic meat plant prospers in Craig

Low-carb diets that recently have put the heat on potato farmers have boosted sales for an exotic meat processing plant in Craig.

Gary Baysinger, owner of Mountain Meat Packing Inc said he estimates his sales increased 20 percent during the past year, largely because of the rising popularity of animal protein.

"When we sell to Costco in Denver, it's a big deal to people," Baysinger said, adding that the wild game sausages sold to the chain are popular with the low-carb crowd.

But the swiftly changing trends in dieting are not likely to make or break the 27-year-old company.

Employees hand-mix the company's spice blends for an array of unique flavors. The plant fills a niche market with products made from meats such as buffalo, wild boar, elk and yak. The market is too small for the large processors and too big for the small processors, Baysinger said.

"We're sitting right in the sweet spot in dealing with exotic meat," Baysinger said.

Baysinger said he thinks people probably are more open to trying new things than they were in the past.

"I think that American consumers have been fed so much meat with hormones and antibiotics that they're looking for something else," Baysinger said.

He estimates that at least 50 percent of the meat his company works with is either wild or not given antibiotics or hormones. The Craig plant and the plant in Fruita are certified organic meat processing plants, two of six plants that are certified in the state, according to Colorado Department of Agriculture records.

The national certification, administered by the state, requires the processor to keep organic meat from coming into contact with nonorganic meat and to keep detailed records of operations.

Being in the meat business, especially the wild game business, comes with risks. Chronic wasting disease, and its counterpart in beef, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, are two concerns.

One way the company has dealt with that risk is to separate wild game processing from farm-raised animals, Baysinger said. That minimizes the risk of spreading CWD to meat from farm-raised animals.

There is no reliable test to verify an animal is free from CWD, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mountain Meat's clients range from U.S. Foods to Vitamin Cottage and from INVESCO field at Mile High stadium to Nick and Willy's Pizza. Baysinger said more than 50 people are employed by the company including those at the Tin Cup Grill at the golf course. The company focuses on a commodity that is not directly tied to Northwest Colorado.

"I think that is good, because as a community, we are so dependant on hunting dollars and so dependant on energy dollars," Baysinger said. "It's good to look for outside sources."

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