A morning visit to the NDSU Meat Lab
You may have noticed by now the green cooler in the Herd Shop labeled NDSU Meat Science. In the cooler contains brats and other meats with flavors from Blueberry Maple to Philly Cheese. I asked people around me if they knew anything about it; I was met with confused looks. This may be due to the fact; I spend most of my time dwelling in Minard Hall.
Not really knowing what to expect but thinking of the famous scene from Rocky (I bet you can imagine). I ventured out to the NDSU Meat Lab to get some more information on what exactly is meat science and where is the meat that they’re selling coming from?
Walking into the Meat Lab (located in Shepperd Arena), I was met with a makeshift retail space with coolers stocked with everything you can imagine. Meat lovers will rejoice at the sight; vegetarians not so much. I was warmly greeted by Evan Bailey, who I later learned is the assistant meat lab manager.
I then sat down with Spencer Wirt, the Meat lab manager at NDSU, to ask him further questions about the operation. Spencer told me that NDSU’s meat lab has been selling meat for fifteen years. I was in astonishment, I only learned about it a few hours prior to the interview. He then told me that they have started to sell wholesale as recent as six months ago to, “Max Hardware, The Herd Shop, Herds & Horns, Würst Bier Hall and Blackbird Woodfire Pizza.”
Needing a further explanation of what meat science really is, he explained “Meat science encompasses the whole process of animal science. From feeding efficiency to the meat animal evaluation.” This, of course, ends in learning how to process the meat. “We currently have eight student employees that help process and package the meat.”
The slaughter and processing are done right on campus in the meat lab. “The animals are all located in the farm units down 19th Avenue and are brought here where we teach students.” There is a multitude of classes you can take at NDSU in the animal science department where you can further learn about everything it takes to bring the meat you eat to the table.
“All the proceeds of selling the meat go back into the meat science program and outreach programs.” With that being said, Spencer then gave me a behind the scenes tour of the operation. Passing through the Sheppard Arena doors, we walked through a side hallway that will eventually lead you to the meat lab. The first thing you’ll pass is a row of aprons that are embroidered with, “I love beef” and yellow hard hats.
After passing the aprons and hardhats, the metal chute where the animals line up comes into view. I’m sure you can assume why. I asked him what may be on people’s minds if you know nothing about slaughterhouse procedures (like myself). I asked him “Do animals know when they’re brought here?” I’m sure he found this a bit amusing and he said no, “The purpose of this whole thing is so that they don’t know and that they stay calm.” In short, the animals don’t know what’s coming.
Passing into the next room, there was an office door. After inquiring about who works back here full time, he said, “There are two inspectors who work here full-time and are employed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).” One inspector is located in the area the slaughter takes place and the other inspector can be found on the processing floor. The purpose of inspectors as stated by the USDA is to conduct inspections, maintain procedures and ensure the safety of people’s health by making sure the processing is done accurately and safely.
The room where the slaughter takes place is a massive open room with metal chainsaw’s hanging from it and other equipment essential for the slaughter. Spencer told me that not only do students get to have hands-on experience, but faculty often come in here to conduct further research.
At this point, the only thing I’ve seen on the tour are bright white walls and overall, an extremely clean space. Walking to the end of the room is where the wall length metal door stood to the entrance of the cooler. I did, in fact, get to go inside and my initial idea of what a slaughterhouse looked like did, in fact, come true. Think of the movie Rocky and the scene’s in the slaughterhouse where he’s training with the help of the carcasses hanging down. Yes, that’s what the cooler looked like except, there wasn’t a fictional boxer spending time in there.
After pointing out what used to be a lamb, a cow and a pig, he mentioned that “They usually stay in the cooler for two weeks to increase tenderness.” I asked him just how much beef do you actually get from one cow in which he responded, “Usually cattle weigh from 1,200 to 1,700 pounds alive.” Once the dressing (the hide) is stripped off, the cow weighs around 800 pounds and from that, “there is a 55 percent yield.” Basically, from that stripped-down cow to the carcass, 55 percent of it is processed into the meat that people consume.
After the trip to the cooler, we walked by an absolutely monstrously sized smoker. After seeing the small ones my family members use, this caught me off guard. Clearly, this was industrial-sized.
The next stop was the processing floor, filled with long metal tables and scales. A student employee was working, packaging beef sticks. This is usually where the weighing and packaging of the product takes place.
“This is all for the purpose of teaching, all the profits sold from the meat are funneled back into the program. The profits are used to raise animals, pay student employees, purchase equipment and put on outreach programs.”
“The Animal Sciences Graduate Student Organization (ASGSO) actually runs a catering business out of here.” After a quick google search, the results came up with the name; Carnivore Catering. On the NDSU website, it states the graduate students, “Provides chuck-wagon style meals via catering services that are served throughout the university and the community with various community service events.”
Overall, the meat science program offers a multitude of students hands-on experience and provides a space for faculty to carry out further research. By buying meat from the NDSU meat lab, customers are directly funding the program and in turn, giving more students an opportunity for a more diverse education.
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to choose from. On the menu, some of the things you can purchase are beef patties, steaks, roasts, pork chops, pork sausages, brats, bacon, beef jerky and lamb.
Overall, the entire operation is run in a sanitary space, it’s kept to high standards and what we should all pride ourselves in is the fact it is all local. All the meat is raised, slaughtered and processed on NDSU grounds.
If you’re wanting to buy meat and support the meat science program, The retail shop is located in the Shepperd Arena and is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Otherwise, some meat can be purchased in the green coolers located in the Herd Shop.
Students can get involved by the plethora of clubs and organizations offered. Some of them being; A meat judging team and Collegiate Cattlewomen.
And if wanting to get your family involved, the meat science program puts on an outreach program for kids called, “BBQ Boot Camp,” along with their continuing involvement with hosting events for 4H and FAA.
Next time you’re at Wurst Bier Hall, Herd & Horns or Blackbird Woodfire Pizza, order meat that was raised and processed by the NDSU Meat Science program. You can now say with confidence, I know exactly where this meat came from.
A link to the price sheets: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/ansc/files/meat-lab-files/copy_of_pdf-meat-labs-price-list
More information on the overview and location of the retail store can be found here: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/ansc/files/meat-lab-files/copy2_of_pdf-meat-labs-price-list