The director of meat science discusses the next generation of local producers

Wyoming’s first meat science degree officially launched this fall at Central Wyoming College (CWC). The degree program aims to train the next generation of local butchers and food scientists. Wyoming Public Radio’s Taylor Stagner spoke with program director Amanda Winchester about the program and what she hopes the students will learn.

Amanda Winchester: It’s definitely the only one in the state, maybe one of the few in the nation that has this particular type of program. Now they have full-fledged meat science programs at some of the universities, but they’re getting into more sophisticated programs than what we do. Our job is primarily to learn how to do everything from harvesting, to production, to quality, to customer service.

The main objective of the program is to teach students how to be well-educated workers for industry. So we try to offer a semester program so that they learn the skills that they can go in and be a well-educated, well-informed employee and get paid more than someone they have to train and do all the safety of the food and everything from scratch. Students can go through the certificate program and then complete the remaining requirements for their associate degree. They can use that to go on to university and go into animal science or animal husbandry, go into and run a huge processing plant, they can become a USDA (US Department of Agriculture) or state inspector and what does that mean [is] that you have a guaranteed job.

Taylor Stagner: How do you prepare students to slaughter animals? I hear this is a big contributor to burnout in this industry.

AW: This is something that even my student who stayed with us had done this on her farm in California. So she had done it. But we went to do some laps and she kind of panicked, she wasn’t sure she could do that. And I just told her I wanted her to give him a chance.

It doesn’t work for everyone. Some students may jump into it and decide, “This is not for me, I don’t want to do this part of the class. I can not do this. That’s probably good. I will really try to encourage them. We’re not going to throw them out there and go, you know, “You’re on your own.”

They’ll be able to watch, they’ll be able to jump in there a little bit, they’ll be able to slowly work into it. And then if they’re done with things and decide, “That’s not the aspect I want to go into the industry,” that’s what they decide they do. I know I can do it. But they could go into fabrication and still do well.

They will have the knowledge, they will have the skills, that will benefit a small plant. But if they go to a bigger plant, they can choose which end of it they want to make.

TS: Many of us are very detached from our food. Can you talk a little bit about that? And in that separation, I think there’s a bit of a disconnect.

AW: Realistically, people really don’t realize that even the meat in the grocery store came from a live animal at some point. I think it’s part of the lack of education on their part and on our part because, you know, I think the public has this misconception of what farmers and ranchers really are, what they do or how they treat their animals.

But they will still go to the grocery store and still buy things. They don’t make the connection. I think it has to start somehow at an early age when kids have to learn that there is a connection between, “God, the animal in the field is what we eat.” I don’t think every kid needs to know the whole process of that, but i think they need to realize that these animals have a purpose.

I think it’s a real issue that we need to educate the public so they know more about where our food comes from. And I really think our college program can try to help with that. I think everyone should. Especially during COVID, you had to learn that when you had scenarios or there wasn’t always meat, or there wasn’t toilet paper, or there wasn’t, you know, all these products, that we need to know where our food comes from and we try to have more good sourcing of it, more local sourcing so that we know what’s in it, that it’s of good quality and that it’s affordable, rather than relying on the big corporations to give us products.

TS: CWC now has a Department of Agriculture-approved non-profit that processes meat locally as a means of education, but also as a way to support the program. Can you tell me a little bit about that? I think it’s called Rustler Cattle Company.

AW: The money just goes back into helping the program. It works all year round and so they farm and harvest all summer while we don’t have students and they will continue when we do. This is real business. But it’s still part of education, so we use it as a tool.

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