Meat and greet

Classes cover the steps between farm and fork

Students in the upcoming slaughter class will assist Wolf Pack Meats plant manager Mike Holcomb on the kill floor.

Students in the upcoming slaughter class will assist Wolf Pack Meats plant manager Mike Holcomb on the kill floor.


For many people, meat processing starts in the supermarket and ends in the kitchen, often without much thought given to the steps that happen prior to a cut of meat landing on the grocery store shelf. But understanding the process that takes place between farm (or ranch) and fork can make a big difference in the bottom line for those whose livelihood lies in supplying said meat.

Over the course of four days in June and July, small groups of farmers and ranchers will convene to take a closer look at that process, through certification courses on slaughtering and processing meat, food safety, and retailing meat in Nevada. It’s all a part of a grant-funded program run by the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension.

“Herds and Harvest is a beginning farmer and rancher program that recruits and trains beginning farmers and ranchers in [agricultural] production and ag marketing,” said program director and UNCE educator Staci Emm.

Herds and Harvest was started in 2011, when the Cooperative Extension program was awarded a grant administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The first round of grant money was used to implement two courses covering the basics of meat slaughtering and processing. The classes are taught in collaboration with Wolf Pack Meats, the meat processing plant UNR has run since 1967.

“It was one of the things that was big at that time—grow local, farm to fork,” Emm said. “What we were trying to do was help those beginning farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to participate and see what a slaughter process was, along with the food safety guidelines and then the processing.”

When the grant was extended in 2014, two more classes were added—one to cover methods for evaluating live cattle and another covering some financial aspects of the meat industry, including marketing and budgeting.

“Then we’re going to take it even a step further, because now we have a meat lab at UNR run by Doctor Amilton de Mello …” Emm said. “So, we’re going to take them winto his lab at thew College of Agriculture, and they’re going to deal with tenderness—how to evaluate tenderness—how to handle packaging, and that type of stuff.”

The courses were designed for beginning farmers and ranchers—which the USDA defines as anyone who’s been in business for less than 10 consecutive years—but Emm said anyone is welcome to sign up.

“We get some chefs from restaurants that want to know how to break down carcasses as part of it,” she said. “We get people that are just interested in where their food comes from.”

The Herds and Harvest program also offers help to ranchers and farmers outside of the classroom.

“We have some mentors on staff that will go out and meet with producers, or … come up with an enterprise budget … so what [producers] are going to sell their product for, how much it’s going to cost to make their product, and how much they’re going to make,” Emm explained. “It’s basically to kind of help them, especially if they want to apply for a loan to get into an agriculture business—that’s pretty beneficial, because it makes them think about all of their costs.”