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Meat science students of Ram Country Meats feed community

Shelves+in+Ram+Country+Meats+full+of+locally+sourced+honey%2C+barbecue+sauce%2C+seasonings+and+more+Nov.+16.+Located+in+the+Animal+Sciences+Building%2C+Ram+Country+Meats+hosts+meat+sales+noon+to+6+p.m.+Wednesday+through+Friday.
Collegian | Lizzy Rylance
Shelves in Ram Country Meats full of locally sourced honey, barbecue sauce, seasonings and more Nov. 16. Located in the Animal Sciences Building, Ram Country Meats hosts meat sales noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Tucked away on the first floor of the Animal Sciences Building at Colorado State University is Ram Country Meats, a meat processing facility and market that is almost entirely run and operated by students. This butcher shop doubles as an educational facility for students as they learn the ins and outs of the meat industry. 

Completed in 2018, the Ram Country Meats storefront is bright and spacious, filled with an assortment of locally sourced products like honey, barbecue sauce and meat seasonings. The walls are lined with refrigerators and freezers featuring a rotating selection of beef, pork and lamb products that are all processed by students. The market is open to the public noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

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Ram Country Meats was created as a storefront for the JBS Global Food Innovation Center, an on-campus facility that trains students in meat processing. Kyle Harrington, the GFIC operations manager, oversees Ram Country Meats and supervises students in the program.

“We have, right now, more than 30 students working for us, and they get paid to learn the different aspects of meat processing,” Harrington said. “They’re heavily involved in the whole process.”

As part of their training, students get hands-on experience in every step of the meat supply chain. The meat for sale at Ram Country Meats represents the last step of this learning process: selling to consumers. But there are many other steps along the way, said Clare Belk, the GFIC catering manager.

“It’s cool to tell the story behind where the meat comes from and how students are involved in the whole process.” -Lora Bailey, CSU animal sciences student

First, live animals must be sourced, typically from local farmers, Belk said. One such supplier is the CSU Agricultural Research Development and Education Center, which has an operational teaching farm and livestock facility on the outskirts of Fort Collins. Animals are assessed by students for muscle and fat composition and overall quality; then some are selected for slaughter. 

Next is fabrication: the process of separating the meat into different parts like sirloin or rib cuts. Students learn different types of cuts throughout the semester, which influences the inventory at Ram Country Meats, Belk said. 

“We do four weeks of lamb, four weeks of pork and then four weeks of beef,” Belk said. “So throughout the semester, you’ll see a big fluctuation in what’s in the store,” aside from certain staples like ground beef and sausage. All of the packaging is done in-house as well. 

Because the GFIC is first and foremost a teaching facility, the meat is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it isn’t graded for quality, other than a few Certified Angus Beef products. Butchers often pay additional fees for USDA grading because it guarantees a specified level of consistency across different cuts.

This is part of the reason the prices are so affordable at Ram Country Meats. The primary mission of the facility is to engage in teaching, research and outreach, so the profits mainly go toward paying the student employees and maintaining the facility, Harrington said.

“We do try to recover our costs, but we’re not out to make a major profit on the meat that we sell here,” Harrington said. “Really, our goal is just to teach students, and that’s the main thing.”

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The GFIC is also involved in a nonprofit program called Beef Sticks for Backpacks, led by GFIC Assistant Manager Sophia Hightower. 

Beef Sticks for Backpacks provides a high-quality, nonperishable protein source for elementary school students in Colorado who face food insecurity. The GFIC produces around 22,000 meat sticks per week to donate to students in need, Hightower said. 

“We make it all here,” Hightower said. “So everything’s donated: the meat that goes into it, the spices, everything.”

This gives students in the GFIC the opportunity to put their newly learned skills to the test, all while giving back to the local community. 

“It’s an awesome project for us at Colorado State University to have, and it’s a story that we really want to get out there more,” Hightower said. 

Lora Bailey is a current student in the animal sciences program who works as a meat processing technician and student lead for Ram Country Meats. Bailey said she hopes to go to veterinary school once she graduates.

“I think it’s really awesome to interact with customers, students and even nonstudents who come in to purchase our products,” Bailey said. “It’s cool to tell the story behind where the meat comes from and how students are involved in the whole process.”

The meat processing facility was met with some resistance from an animal rights group on campus when construction began in 2017, according to The Coloradoan. However, animal welfare is a high priority for the department of animal sciences, as stated on their website.

Lily Edwards-Callaway is an associate professor in the department of animal sciences who specializes in livestock welfare. She said her love of animals led her to pursue graduate school, where she initially worked with zoo animals before switching to livestock behavior and welfare.

“I really wanted to do something that made an impact, and I found by working in the agricultural space, I really can impact the lives of millions of animals in a positive way,” Edwards-Callaway said.

Now she is one of the faculty members in the animal sciences department who prioritizes improving conditions for livestock throughout the food supply chain. 

“My research focuses on the terminal point in the supply chain, so specifically that means those end-of-life decisions for animals,” Edwards-Callaway said. “Whether it be making timely euthanasia decisions or making sure the marketing process — which includes transportation, handling and processing — is done in the most humane way possible.” 

Reach Lizzy Rylance at science@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian

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