Buffalo Rule at Little River Smokehouse

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country 3-08

Tasty and healthy buffalo jerky, meat sticks, and sausages are the main menu at Little River Smokehouse, the only Native owned and operated smokehouse in the country.

Wholly run by the Fort Belknap Indian community of Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes, this tribal business finally received their USDA approval earlier this year. This valuable approval means the business is healthy and conforms to all standards set by the tough US Department of Agriculture rules and guarantees the smokehouse a booming future.

buflittleriversmokehous.gif ‘We found a local USDA slaughterhouse for sale 7 years ago,” says smokehouse general manager Harold Main. “We have a herd of buffalo and then the idea of the smokehouse was a spin off of that. We got a grant to renovate an old shopping center on the rez here for our offices.”

Main started working with the smokehouse last July after many years working for the tribal council.

“We’re just now finishing the renovation of our store, and can now sell our buffalo products online nationally and here in the store under the USDA seal. It was a very tough process to get certified, they really watch every thing you do and you have to document and notarize all the forms. We were filling out 15 forms a day for awhile.”

The tribe’s herd of buffalo numbers about 600 now, they supplement that with meat from local suppliers. The buffalo are all free range and natural with no antibiotics or hormones. They use the rounds from the buffalo and the trim for meat sticks, sausages, and jerky. The small retail outlet onsite sells steaks; it has been up and running about a year.

“This was really a long haul for us but we are now producing jerky at a rate of about 100 lbs. a day of finished product. It’s a different setup for other products like the sausage, we’re at about 500 lbs a day for that. It’s limited production right now but we feel we have lots to be proud of. We are already promoting the health benefits of buffalo in local diabetes programs, and school lunch programs.”

The Little River Smokehouse now has a staff of 6 and is aiming to have 12 soon. Their buffalo herd roam on 15,000 acres. Montana’s cold winters don’t seem to bother them at all, Main says. “They like the cold, and they need more room than cows as they really do roam. I’ve seen them move clear across the field in just minutes, they don’t graze in one area, but evenly across the whole field.”

The reservation is pretty remote, about 200 miles from Billings, MT, but with the capability to ship worldwide, the company is aiming for national sales for now, to get their business on solid ground.

“We have big plans for the future but want to make sure we can produce enough good product before we expand too rapidly,” he says.

On The Net:
www.littleriversmokehouse.com

FMI: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
406/353-2649

 

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