The Caucus Blog – Deer Processing a Family Business in Illinois

Illinois has an estimated population of 850,000 deer, ranked 11th in the nation by one national magazine. Illinois also ranks seventh in the top deer hunting states list, with the ‘Golden Triangle’ counties in the west-central region (Pike, Brown, and Adams) leading the way. That region has received national attention for consistently producing some of the largest bucks in the state. Much of the Golden Triangle region is locked in leases and private land ownership.

“Western Illinois is deer country, with hunters coming from all over the state and nation,” stated Rep. C. D. Davidsmeyer (R-Murrayville). “We see some of the nicest bucks, while also feeding our families. Deer is serious business around here, from the lodges to the processors and everything in between.”

Illinois is also a state with a healthy number of deer processing plants, many of which are family businesses passed down from generation to generation. The Eickman family has been operating a meat processing plant since 1953 in Winnebago County. Merlyn Eickman purchased his first plant in Pecatonica, and his son Mike started working in the business in 1964. All operations were moved to Seward in 1967, and the company was renamed Eickman’s Processing Co. Several expansions came about over the years, increasing retail and warehouse space, as well as the processing floor and coolers and freezers. Over the years, Eickman’s has won numerous awards for their quality meat, accomplishments, and contributions to the meat industry. The business continued to be passed down to family, with Mike and Lori Eickman taking over in 1999, and Tom and Katie Eickman assuming ownership in 2020. 

Similar family legacy stories can be found in the tiny village of Sainte Marie in Jasper County. Hartrich Meats was started in 1953 by Harold Hartrich and his wife Lucie to provide meat for their grocery store and to offer custom processing to local farmers. The Hartrichs were some of the original settlers in this village with French heritage. Harold and Lucie’s sons, Mark and Tony, took over the operation in 1984 and added a retail area, deer processing, catering, and grill sales. Mark and Tony’s sons – Craig, Brian, and Daniel, have joined the business to provide generations of experience and excellence to the community’s needs. About Us – Hartrich Meats

Heinkel’s Packing Co. in Decatur has been around since 1912, when German immigrant Albert Heinkel started making sausage in the back of his store. Albert’s sons moved the business into a larger facility on North 22nd Street in 1945. Heinkel’s continues today, owned and operated by the fourth generation of the family that includes President Wes Heinkel and Vice President Dennis Heinkel. Heinkel’s offers a number of meat products, along with deer processing. Products are sold over the counter, through distributors, and are also available at grocery stores and restaurants.

Trenton Processing, located east of St. Louis in Clinton County, was started in 1964 by Calvin and Loretta Schwend. The couple sold the business to three of their five children in 1991, but in 2022 the business was sold to Cody and Sheldyn Schneider of Beckemeyer. The Schneiders do not plan to make any changes, with Trenton Processing continuing to offer a wide variety of specialty sausages along with many cured and smoked items. The business also offers custom processing, including deer processing. 

“Illinois is home to so many wonderful family businesses, especially when it comes to deer processing,” stated Rep. Wayne Rosenthal (R-Morrisonville). “And the products they sell are of such high quality. These folks really take a lot of pride in the work they do.”

J and J Meat Processing in Beecher City is truly unique, with owner Jay Bell opening a meat processing business and converting his garage into a small-scale meat processing plant. Several other family members are big contributors, with Jay’s wife Judi doing the bookkeeping, daughter Dalanie making patties and assisting with sales, and son-in-law Jimmy Price helping out during deer season. Two of Jay’s other daughters that live out of town help when they can.

Turasky Meats was founded on the north end of Springfield in 1949 by Joe Turasky Sr. and his uncle, Tony Yakst. The business has since been passed down to Joe Turasky, Jr. and then to his son, Brad. Turasky Meats sells a variety of meat products in addition to offering deer processing. At the 2022 Illinois State Fair, Turasky accepted the Grand Champion Snack Stick Award at the State Fair Meat Processors competition. The list of awards won by Turasky over the years continues to grow as the business focuses on hard work and creating quality products. 

Behrmann Meat and Processing in Albers is a family-owned business that was started in 1968. Dennis and Elaine Behrmann have built the business over the years, with several additions to the original building. Behrmann’s now has over 50 full-time employees and provides custom deer processing. The company’s mission is to produce, process, and sell quality products at the highest level possible. 

Jones Meat and Locker in Jacksonville has been family owned and operated since 1943. Three generations of the Jones family have strived to make customer service its top priority. Jones Meat and Locker offers high quality meat processing and packaging of beef, pork, and deer. The retail store is stacked with meat, chicken, fish, and other grocery items. 

Other deer processing plants in Illinois include two in Highland – Korte Meat Processing and Grantfork Meats, with the latter owning facilities in both Bond and Macoupin Counties. There’s also Shirley Farms in DeSoto, Smokehouse Venison Processing in Rockford, Moweaqua Packing Plant in Moweaqua, and Triple C Meats in Anna.  A larger list of meat processors in Illinois can be found here