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Cheyenne — Recently, Wyoming Department of Agriculture officials traveled to Hot Springs, S.D. to examine the feasibility of a Mobile Harvest Unit for use in Wyoming.
    In Wyoming, ranchers have very few in-state animal harvest options. There are presently 12 state-inspected slaughter plants and 20 state inspected meat-processing plants in Wyoming.  Most of these plants are located in a band across the state from the NW to the SE with a couple plants in the SW but no state inspected slaughter plants in the northeast portion of the state.  Additionally, there are currently no federally inspected slaughter facilities in Wyoming.
    “We are always looking for ways to make agriculture in the state stronger,” said Jason Fearneyhough, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “This trip to see the mobile harvesting unit is the first step towards providing another viable processing option for ranchers that makes economic and practical sense.”
    Wild Idea Buffalo Company operates the mobile harvest unit that currently services ranchers in western South Dakota. The unit is a self-contained harvesting unit in a 40-45 foot trailer, which is divided into the slaughter room, refrigerated storage area and mechanical room where the generator, air compressor, hot water, restroom and sterilizing fluids are stored. Typically, the unit has a staff of four individuals and can process 10 to 20 animals per day, depending on the type and size of the animal.
    The unit is comprised of an over-the-road tractor/trailer unit and can be taken directly to the ranch to be used. Currently, ranchers in the northeast portion of Wyoming have to transport livestock hundreds of miles in order to be slaughtered and processed which can take a toll on the ranchers and the animals.
    “There are great expenses associated with the transportation of livestock for processing” said Fearneyhough. “This mobile harvest unit lowers the cost to the producer of slaughtering by eliminating the transport of live animals, while providing a better product because there is less stress on the animal.”
    One major reason for the trip was to check to see if the trailer would meet state inspection standards for meat processing plants.
    “A major priority of the WDA is to ensure that meat slaughter and processing plants are inspected and meet USDA requirements in order to protect the food supply in Wyoming,” said Dean Finkenbinder, Consumer Health Services Manager. “We were very impressed with the unit from a food safety standpoint and with a few modifications it could work in Wyoming.”
    If the WDA determines that the Mobile Harvest Unit is a viable option for Wyoming, it could provide a convenient, certified and cost effective way for ranchers to harvest livestock in the state of Wyoming. The WDA is currently weighing the options and will look further into opportunities a mobile slaughter facility would provide for Wyoming agriculture in the coming weeks.

Greeley, Colo. – For Bill Munns, working at JBS has been a learning experience. Munns, who grew up on a cow/calf operation in Colorado, now works as the director of marketing and product management for one of the biggest beef processors in the world.

Part of Munns' position with the company is helping producers determine what type of cattle the company wants.

“I get asked a lot what the packer is looking for in the cattle we buy,” Munns told producers during a recent beef quality meeting in Greeley, Colo. “The short answer is to ensure consumer preferences are met through the supply chain interaction.”

He continued, “We want what the consumer wants. Whether we want to admit it or not, in the end, we all work for the shopper.”

For the shopper

Munns sees a real need for better educating shoppers about beef.

“A lot of times, they are not well-educated on what our practices are in the beef industry,” he explained. “We definitely need to do a better job helping them understand by educating them.”

Quality has become a lot more important.

“Through the entire supply chain, we all work together to produce what the consumer wants, from the cow/calf producer, to the backgrounder, stocker/feeder, feedlot and packer,” he explained. “Consumers are looking for a quality product. Because of that, we offer a much better return for a higher quality carcass.”

Munns continued, “USDA graders are present at each of our plants. They run the cattle across the grading scale and determine whether they have a prime quality carcass, choice or select. The consumer is willing to pay more for a prime quality carcass, and the relative cut out value of prime carcasses versus choice or select, is worth more.”

To produce prime quality carcasses, Munns told producers packers like JBS are looking for “soldier-type” cattle.

“We want uniformity. It makes our operation more efficient on a daily production basis,” he said. “If the cattle come into the feedlot the same shape and size, it just makes everything more efficient for everyone on down the line.”

“We like it from a production standpoint, but our customers also demand uniformity,” Munns commented.

Retail segment

Munns said many of their retail customers don’t have fully-staffed butcher shops or a skilled labor force to cut up meat.

“When they buy a box of ribeyes, they want to open the box and find ribeyes uniform in size,” he says. “What they don’t want to see is a 12-pound ribeye and a 20-pound ribeye in the same box.”

“When a producer brings cattle to us, we want them to be uniform in weight, structure, conformation and muscling, and less than 1,000 pounds in carcass weight,” Munns told producers.

He added that most packing plants were built to handle beef carcasses of the 1970s, rather than the heavy carcasses from today. When beef carcasses are too heavy, it spells trouble for the plant, he noted.

“Obviously, we can’t have carcasses that touch the floor out of food safety concerns,” he said.

Importance of age

Munns also noted that the age of finished cattle is also important.

As an animal gets older, the rib bones ossify. The most desirable ages for finished cattle are A or B maturity. A maturity is nine to 30 months of age, while B maturity is 30 to 42 months.

“Don’t feed the cattle too long and get them out there to 40 or 50 months of age,” Munns warned producers. “If producers do, we will discount them for maturity. We really like to see the finished cattle under 30 months of age.”

In fact, a lot of the premium programs JBS participates in require A maturity cattle.

“Our buying reflects what we can sell in the marketplace,” Munns said. “We have to buy not only what consumers ask for but also what they are willing to pay for.”

As an example, all consumers say they want non-hormone, antibiotic-free beef, but Munns said only about four percent of their production goes into that market.

“It costs more, and not everyone is willing to pay more for that product,” he said. “It is not a big market, but it is growing.”


The product manager has also noticed people are less trusting than they used to be and want to have an affidavit to show the customer where the beef comes from and how it was raised.

Some customers even purchase beef from verified programs, like the JBS brand Aspen Ridge Natural Beef, because they think they are getting a better product.

“People who buy this think they are buying something better, greener, more nutritional and healthier for the environment. They are willing to pay six to seven dollars more per pound for it, even though it isn’t a lot different than other beef we sell,” he said.

Customers are also requesting a leaner product, which means more trim at the packer level.

“They want meat with one-quarter-inch trim that is ready to slice into roasts and steaks at the retail level. It can be portioned out easier,” he explained. “What that means is the yield grade is becoming more relevant to the packer than at the retail level.”

It could mean some discount for the feeders if the packer has to spend a lot of time trimming the meat to meet one-quarter-inch specifications.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Cheyenne – On Sept. 16 the USDA Food Safety and inspection Service published in the Federal Register proposed regulations for shipment of state-inspected meat across state lines, a voluntary cooperative program authorized under the 2008 farm bill.
    Under the proposed rules, state-inspected establishments would be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce.
    Despite some alterations to existing rules, members of the small processing plant industry in Wyoming, along with about half of the other states, aren’t yet making any movements to modify their business plans.
    “As far as the process goes, it’s a step ahead, but as far as where Wyoming stands currently, it probably does not provide a lot more opportunity than we had in the recent past,” says Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough.
    “We know some people who are working closely with the legislation, and they say we’re looking at two years before the program will be offered,” says Heather Couture, a manager of Cody Meat in Cody. “When the 2008 farm bill came out, there was a knee-jerk reaction in thinking interstate shipment would happen immediately, but it won’t.”
    “The reason we have an issue with the proposed regulations is they’re requiring identical inspection practices in state plants, while foreign countries only have to be ‘equal to,’” says Fearneyhough, who recently returned from the annual gathering of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture where the proposed regulations were discussed.
    According to USDA, the new program was created to supplement the existing federal-state cooperative inspection program to allow state-inspected plants with 25 or fewer employees to ship products across state lines. Fearneyhough says that all the plants in Wyoming qualify with less than 25 employees.
    Fearneyhough says the problem Wyoming has currently is the processing plants meeting inspection. “The issue is more the physical plants themselves meeting inspection. The intricacies of the plant buildings themselves cannot meet the requirements they’re putting forth.”
    The proposed regulations are intended to coincide with the USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, which seeks to better connect consumers with local producers to help develop local and regional food systems to spur economic opportunity.
    “By successfully restoring the link between consumers with local producers there can be new income opportunities for farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities; a greater focus on sustainable agricultural practices; and families can better access healthy, fresh, locally grown food,” states a USDA release.
    Under the proposed rule, selected establishments will receive inspection services from federally trained and/or supervised state inspectors who will verify that the establishments meet all federal food safety requirements. Meat and poultry products produced under the voluntary cooperative program will bear an official USDA mark of inspection, thereby enabling interstate shipment.
    Currently, 27 states operate state meat or poultry inspection programs, and FSIS verifies that the state programs are implementing requirements that are “at least equal to” those imposed under the federal meat and poultry products inspection acts.
    Couture says the federal government conducted a nationwide review to find if states did meet standards, and that Wyoming received a passing grade for three consecutive years.
    The larger packers have opposed the new opportunities for small processing plants, viewing them as competition. “About half of the other states have a problem with their small processing plants, too,” says Fearneyhough. “The other half are where the politics come into play, because they have the large meat plants and union labor. They see the small plants as competition, and they may be, but it’s very small competition.”
    “There’s an incredible amount of scrutiny on these new regulations,” says Couture. “There’s a lot of opposition, so I think they’ll take a long time.”
    Fearneyhough says opportunity may be created down the road, but the question is if Wyoming’s plant owners want to go to the extra expense to upgrade their plants and ship out of state.
    “I think it’s fair to say that because they’ve looked at changing the rule they’re more flexible than they were, but we still have a ways to go,” says Fearneyhough.
    Comments on the proposed interstate meat shipment regulations must be received on or before Nov. 16 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at, by mail to: FSIS Docket Room, USDA, FSIS, OPPD, Docket Clearance Unit, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Stop 5272, Beltsville, MD 20705.
    All comments must identify FSIS and the docket number FSIS-2008-0039. Comments will be available for viewing online at
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..