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Meat science director discusses next generation of local producers

A woman in an orange and gray jumpsuit stands in front of a hanging animal carcass.
Amanda Winchester
Patty Snyder was a student during the soft launch of the meat science program last year at Central Wyoming College.

The first meat science degree in Wyoming is officially launching 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 Taylar Stagner spoke with program director Amanda Winchester about the program and what she hopes the students will learn.

Amanda Winchester: That's definitely the only one in the state, it's maybe one of the only 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 go into more entailed programs than what we do. Ours is mostly hands on learning how to do everything from harvesting, to fabricating, to quality, to dealing with customers.

The main purpose of the program is to teach students how to be well educated laborers for the industry. And so we're trying to offer the semester-long program so that they learn the skills that they can go in and be a well educated, well knowledgeable employee, and be at a higher pay rate than somebody that they'd have to train and do all the food safety and everything from scratch. The students can go through the certificate program, and then get the rest of their requirements for their associate's degree. They can use that to go on to a university and go into meat science or animal science, go in and manage a huge processing plant, they can become a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) or state inspector, and what that pretty much means [is] that you're guaranteed a job.

Taylar Stagner: How do you prepare students for slaughtering animals? I hear that that's a big contributor to burnout in this industry.

AW: That is something that even my student that stayed on with us, she had done that on her farm back in California. So, she had done it. But we went to do a couple tours, and she kind of panicked, she wasn't sure that she could do that. And I just kind of told her that I wanted her to give it a chance.

It doesn't fit everybody. Some students might get into it and decide 'This is not for me, I don't want to do this part of the class. I can't do that.' That's probably okay. I really am going to try to encourage them. We're not going to throw them in there, and go, you know, 'You're on your own.'

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

They'll have the knowledge, they'll have the skills, which will be beneficial for a small plant. But if they went into a bigger plant, they can pick and choose which end of it they want to do.

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

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

But yet, they'll go to the grocery store and still buy things. They don't make the connection. I think it needs to start out kind of at an early age that kids need to learn that there's a connection between, 'Gee, 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 those animals are for a purpose.

I think that's a real issue that we need to educate the public so that they understand more about where our food comes from. And I really think our program within the college can try to help with that. I think everybody should. Especially during COVID, you had to learn that when you had scripts 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 foods coming from and try to have a better supply of it, a more local supply, so we know what's in it, that it's good quality, and that it's available instead of relying on the big corporations to provide us products.

TS: So there's a nonprofit at CWC now that's USDA approved that processes to meat locally as a teaching tool, but also as a way to support the program. Can you tell me a little bit about that? I believe it's called the Rustler Cattle Company.

AW: The money just goes back into helping with the program. It's running all year long, and so they're processing and harvesting all summer while we don't have students and they'll continue when we do. It's an actual business. But it's still part of education so we use it as a tool.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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