Meat the future

2014 Meat judging contest, with 72 students participating.

2014 Meat judging contest, with 72 students participating.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is expanding its very successful meat-processing certification classes with additional Basics 1 workshops and adding a new Basics 2 program.

Begun in 2012, the workshops on harvesting and processing meat are part of the extension’s Herds & Harvest Program, which began with a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant.

Half-day workshops are held at UNR’s Wolf Pack Meats plant, one of the few small meat processing plants certified by the USDA to do both slaughter and processing.

“This is one of the most successful training projects I’ve ever been a part of,” said Staci Emm, extension educator in Mineral County and director of the program. “We’re meeting a need. We got all of us together to meet a need.”

The Basics 1 harvesting workshops provide hands-on training in slaughter and storage. The Basics 1 processing workshops offer specialized training in the accuracy of cutting, knife handling, portion control, merchandising and utilization of carcass products.

All classes emphasize food safety and sanitation.

Before the meat processing certification program, individuals in northern Nevada interested in learning about meat harvesting and processing would have had to contact a small meat packing plant and get permission to go onto the site.

“There were no training facilities,” Emm said.

Mike Holcomb, facility manager at Wolf Pack Meats, learned meat processing right out of high school with on-the-job training in a grocery story meat department in northern California.

Due to limited space inside the Wolf Pack meat plant, certification classes are limited to 10 people so students can get as involved in the process as they want.

“The hands-on experience is vital to the (student experience),” said Holcomb, who has been with Wolf Pack Meats for eight years.

The certification program attracts a variety of people, including chefs, students studying veterinary medicine, hunters who want to know how to process their kill, and more. Most students take both the slaughter and processing classes.

“There’s a broad range (of people taking the classes),” Emm said, “all the way from the young rancher from a generational ranching family, to the older seasoned rancher who wants to learn how his cattle are graded; chefs learning how to break down cuts, to consumers who want to know where their meat comes from.”

The spring classes have a waiting list of about 20 people.

With the increasing interest in the program, organizers hope to add additional workshops to the schedule in spring and add new classes in summer.

More in-depth, Basics 2 classes are set to begin in July. Basics 2 will include classroom work on such things as USDA regulations as well as processing at the meat plant. Students will look at how different grades of meat are determined, the yield, and how to assess the carcass value.

The program will also introduce the use of ultrasound, part of the future of the livestock industry, said Steve Foster, extension educator in Lovelock, who is preparing to teach that part of the class.

Ultrasound can be used to examine live cattle to grade its meat, he said. In the stockyard, ultrasound can determine which cattle will produce higher grades of meat, which can be separated before slaughter and sold for a higher price.

Students in the UNR extension class will use ultrasound to examine a live animal to predict the grade of meat and volume it will produce and then compare the estimate with the product after processing.

Herds & Harvest organizers are also looking ahead to establishing a Basics 3 internship program at Wolf Pack Meats in partnership with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

“It’s going to take until next year to get the workforce development program together” with DETR, Emm said.

All the meat processed at Wolf Pack Meats is born and raised at the university, Holcomb said. The current trend toward locally produced food has increased the interest in both the meat packing plant and the certification classes.

“Hopefully, it keeps growing,” he said.


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