For the past few months, rumors have been flying that Hamilton Packing Company, or Hamilton Pack as most people call it, is closing its doors or that they won’t be doing any custom butchering anymore, just retail. After visiting with Marty and Kim Auch, owners of Hamilton Pack since 1988, it’s time to set the record straight.
Marty Auch was 31 years old when he moved back to the valley and purchased the plant. He was raised here in the valley and, after leaving the valley for a few years to make a better living, he and Kim decided this was the best place to raise kids. They bought the plant from Wally Weber and slowly began to expand.
At first, they only did custom work, where the customer brought in a cow or hog, and it was slaughtered and butchered to the customer’s specifications. But Auch thought he could do some retail, too.
One of the best-known products at Hamilton Pack now is their beef jerky and they sell a lot of it. In fact, they make about two racks of jerky a day now. But the first time Auch made it, it took a month to make one rack of jerky. Auch said he is always experimenting and reading other labels to get new ideas for the jerky which comes in four flavors.
“People love snacks,” said Auch. “And they want more locally made products.”
One meat case in the retail part of Hamilton Pack is devoted to just these types of foods. There are summer sausages, Thuringer, beef sticks, German sausages, hot dogs and more. Baskets can be ordered and even customized.
Several years ago, Auch expanded the retail to include cuts of meat. Everything from great fresh hamburger to standing rib roasts are now offered. Summer brings barbecues and serious grillers have found the meat from Hamilton Pack fits their needs.
But as the retail has expanded, so have the number of animals processed for others. Auch said that doing custom cutting takes a lot of experience for both slaughtering and butchering. He also said that if the animal is going to go to more than one family, and each family wants their part of the animal done to their specifications, it can be done but it is more difficult.
“But we have so many good customers,” said Auch. “We want to keep them.”
Hamilton Pack employs eight full-time workers plus Auch and Kim. However, during hunting season, they add another five or six workers. This is not only because of hunting season but also because of the Ravalli County Fair.
During the 4H/FFA Livestock Market Sale, one phrase is commonly heard, “support.” This means that the animal may be sold for more than the support price but that Hamilton Pack, or other slaughter houses, actually buy the animal with the bidder paying only the difference between the bid and the support price. Last year, Hamilton Pack bought about 40 beef and 70 hogs. Some of these are pre-sold and some go through retail. Auch said he hasn’t made a decision about whether he will continue this or not at this time.
When you couple the animals from the fair with hunting season, the hours get long for Auch. He says he typically will check the freezers a couple of times a day, even on a rare day off. In 2016, they processed 300 elk, 600 deer and about 100 antelope. Auch said the antelope numbers were up this year but he didn’t have a count on the other game animals. Some of the animals are completely butchered but many are brought in just to grind into burger or make into sausages. Game animals are not subject to state control but all the rest of the animals processed at Hamilton Pack must pass state inspection when they come in and once the meat is butchered. The company itself also does inspections monthly for E. coli and salmonella.
Hamilton Pack also supplies meat for some well-known restaurants here: among them, Nap’s Grill, The Edge and Bitterroot Brewery in Hamilton; Moondance in Victor; and Glenn’s Cafe in Florence.
Auch and his wife both agree that it has taken years to build up the business.
“We’ve grown just like the valley has grown,” says Auch. “But it’s a young man’s business. Our kids are grown and have their own careers and lives. We have the business for sale and that includes the land and the house. It’s a big investment.”
In the meantime, Auch plans on slowing down and getting better organized. He hopes to schedule less or at least more efficiently to increase some ‘off’ time. Kim adds, “time for the grandkids.”