HELENA — The Deer Culling Program is continuing after the recent cold snap.
At Old Salt Co-op they process all deer from the program before sending it to Helena Food Share.
“Animal control called us up and asked us if we would be interested in processing deer from the city cull program,” said Jason Tomsheck, the Head Butcher at Old Salt Meat Processing.
This is the second year Old Salt has processed deer caught during the program.
The City of Helena says that as of last week, 47 deer have been removed from city limits.
Each fall the city and FWP conduct a survey to estimate the deer population and determine how many should be culled.
The target for this year was 250 deer.
“This year I think we’re right around 35. Last year was more like 50ish,” Tomsheck said. “Numbers are down from what they have expected to catch. I don’t know whether the deer are getting smarter or what the deal is.”
During this time, Old Salt does have to keep all wild and domestic meat separate to comply with their Custom Exempt License from the Department of Livestock.
“Whenever we’re processing wild game it’s always after anything that we process domestically. You kind of have to have a separation and we keep them in a totally separate cooler from everything else,” said Tomsheck.
Old Salt says they do get paid a little for processing meat, but they don’t do it for the money.
“It’s awesome. We love to help out the community being a startup business, and that’s just good Montana values,” Tomsheck said.
So far, Helena Food Share has received about 700 lbs. of ground meat from the program.
The city says the meat from about a half dozen deer spoiled while they were waiting for the results from disease testing, but it did not go to waste.
Instead, it was used to help feed animals at Montana WILD, train special forces and to support a Wolverine tracking project in the Rimini area.