It’s 9:30 a.m. and the parking lot at Peach Orchard Deer Processing is humming, a constant flow of pick-up trucks coming and going.
Hunters of all ages are coming to the facility, just under an hour’s drive from Columbia, to drop off their recent kills to be broken down into cuts of venison or processed into sausage, jerky or some other smoked meat. This morning there was a nip in the air – the cooler temperatures get the deer up and moving – so the parking lot was packed.
Roy Floyd operates Peach Orchard from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week from Aug. 15-Jan. 31 – the schedule is one month before hunting season begins, on Sept. 15, to a month after it ends, on Dec. 31. He’s been doing this for just over 15 years.
During actual hunting season, Floyd and his staff will process around 4,500 deer.
“It’s a whole year’s worth of work done in four months,” said Floyd. The morning after a recent cold snap, Floyd says Peach Orchard processed 140 deer and eight hogs in one day.
The other eight months, when Peach Orchard is closed, Floyd works construction. Two employees – Tia Biermann, who takes orders and helps in the sausage making, and David Soto, who skins and butchers – have been with Floyd for a number of years. About a dozen others on staff are new hires which Floyd, Soto and Biermann have to train each new season.
Soto has the reputation of being “the fastest deer skinner in the world.” He can take a carcass and skin and clean it in under 2 minutes.
Hunters have the option to drop off their game for Floyd and his crew to skin and process for a fee starting around $55, or hunters can take advantage of Peach Orchard’s indoor skinning facility. Separate from Peach Orchard’s processing area, hunters can use the indoor facility to weigh their animals and use the provided saws, shears and hoists to break down the carcasses. The carcasses are either taken away or tagged for processing and left in the cooler.
Both the self service and drop-off service are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week during hunting season.
It’s not just deer that are handled at Peach Orchard. Floyd’s facility is USDA Certified and regularly inspected for the handling of deer, hogs, even goats and cattle.
“Anything with a hide,” said Floyd. He’s even processed alligator. The facility has two separate coolers and a couple of refrigerated trucks for keeping species separated.
Most hunters order the basic cut package of loin, roast, steaks and ground meat but Peach Orchard offers specialties such as formed patties, hams, a variety of sausages in bulk or link, and cooked products that include summer sausage, jerky, smoked sausage, venison bacon and venison bologna. Orders usually take a week to fill because, after the animal is skinned and cleaned, the carcass must hang in the cooler for five days – a mini curing period – before it’s broken down into specified cuts. For hogs, the basic cuts may include chops, steaks, roasts, hams, ribs, fresh picnic and ground pork and fresh sausage.
In addition to orders by individual hunters, Peach Orchard also handles the smoking and sausage making for 30 other processors from around the state. Floyd uses hickory wood chips to smoke the meats for at least four hours. Biermann says that the jalapeno and cheese snack sticks, summer sausage and jerky are the most popular cooked-product orders.
On Saturdays everyone at Peach Orchard is involved in making sausage. Load after load of venison is tipped into a meat grinder, along with solid chunks of pork fat and Floyd’s “tried-and-true” seasoning blend. The meat mixture will be ground twice before put into another machine that will force the ground meat into casings for link sausage or into one pound wrappers for bulk sausage.
Soto runs the sausage making line.
The casing machine forms 13 pounds of link sausage in just over a minute. Soto snips the links into 1 pound portions (three sausage links equal one pound), pushes the links down the table for Biermann and Norma Carranco to package, and loads another casing onto the feeder tube. The three of them will continue this work most of the day, switching from links to bulk to fill a pile of order tickets on a nearby table. One ticket coming in from another processor requests that Peach Orchard grind 300 pounds of bulk, 150 pounds of hot links, 150 pounds of onion sausage, 150 pounds of sweet Italian and 150 pounds of regular links.
During the week, Biermann handles the incoming processing orders, makes cube steak, bags and seals packages of sausage and makes labeling for Peach Orchard products and generic labels for orders going to other processors.
Floyd, in addition to filling meat orders from other processors, also deals with the animals’ hide.
A byproduct of the processing, deer skin is often discarded. Floyd has found a way to make some extra money by collecting the discarded hides from processors around North Carolina and South Carolina. He has a crew at another site on the Peach Orchard property cleaning, counting and salting the hides to dry and cure. After drying, the hides are sent off to be made into gloves, shoes, purses and jackets. Last year, Peach Orchard’s trucks collected 50,000 hides and sold deer skin gloves ($15/pair) through the website peachorcharddeerprocessing.com.
Also at the online store, Floyd sells a line of custom knives and a saw – the designs inspired by the tools used by Soto.