DELTA - It started with 15 head of Galloway cattle he brought up from North Dakota. At the time, Doug McCollum was owner and operator of Delta Concrete. But his heart was in ranching, and he was testing the waters to see if a market existed for locally raised and processed meat.
It is difficult to have one without the other, though, and Delta lacked a meat processing plant. That did not stop the enterprising McCollum family. They started out by selling the hardy, cold weather-tolerant cattle to a small group of customers, then spending their evening hours butchering and processing them. It didn't take long for McCollum to realize a local market existed and that he was rapidly outgrowing his nighttime operation.
"We opened up Delta Meat and Sausage in November of 1997," said Jeannie Pinkelman, daughter of Doug and Cathy McCollum. "McKinley Meat Packing plant in Palmer had just burned down, and a local hog operation was getting ready to send a batch of hogs down there."
Northwest Livestock and Cattle Company, McCollum's handle for their farm operation, grew along with Delta Meat and Sausage. They now process approximately 175 head of beef cattle and 300 hogs from their farm each year. The hogs came into play when the family acquired a sow and piglets. The hog operation rapidly expanded, and hogs are now their predominant processing animal. Add exotic animals raised locally - yak, elk, and buffalo - and the plant stays busy all year.
But nothing compares to the rush they see during hunting season. With their meticulously clean operation and customer-friendly atmosphere, it didn't take long for Delta Meat and Sausage to build up a loyal hunting clientele.
Tom Cheeseman, a former Delta Junction resident now residing in North Pole, still brings his wild game to the plant every year for processing. This year, he showed up with a cake in hand, thanking the plant for their service.
"Their service is great, the people are friendly, and their sausage is the best," said Cheeseman.
"Hunting season is what sustains us during the slow months," Pinkelman said. "It starts Aug. 1 and runs through mid-October."
"Subsistence hunters and folks bringing in caribou from up north start coming in early August," she continued. "The crew here really kicks into gear, and we usually end up hiring a few more part-time workers during the rush season. We have three meat cutters and seven full-time employees out on the floor.
"On our peak days, our workers put up 4,300 pounds of meat but normally average 3,500 pounds," she continued. "Moose, caribou, sheep, and bear. We process them all. But did this operation happen overnight? No, we crept, crawled, walked, and then ran. It was all one day at a time."