One of the things I love the most about social media is being able to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with… Heck, if it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t be engaged right now! I wrote on National Ag Day about how in Agriculture, it’s easy for us to pat ourselves on our own backs and insist that customers “thank us” for what we do, but thanks is best received when it isn’t asked for or insisted upon. As a person involved with Agriculture and how our food makes it to our plates, one of the best compliments I can receive is when a non-Ag person becomes interested in what I have to say. And when that person sparks a conversation and asks questions.
Ian (An Irish Male in America) is one of those people who has been a fearless follower, someone who isn’t afraid to ask questions, and someone who is genuinely interested in agriculture and getting to know more people involved in the industry. He has taken the time to put his thoughts to paper (or an email) on several accounts to ask me questions directly about the meat industry. He’s curious, he’s interested, and if he lived closer to my parent’s meat shop in California, you bet I would have taken him on a tour. Today I came across his blog post asking farmers/ranchers 13 questions. And I feel like Ian asks some great questions for those of us in the agriculture industry. Most of these questions I’ve been asked before so although my experience doesn’t lie in ranching and I am new to this whole farm scene, I will answer them from what I am trained and experienced in… the meat industry!
1: What is the worst time of year for you?
It depends on what you mean by worst… If you mean financially, it’s Feb-April (with the exclusion of Easter). Our slow time is considered after Christmas up until our fair season starts. If by worst you mean working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, and stressed out of your mind… Than you are talking about fair season. We process four fairs, basically meaning, people in the community go to these Junior Livestock Auctions where kids involved in FFA & 4-H sell their livestock animals they have been raised for the past months. It’s a great opportunity for both because the check goes directly to the kid AND the meat goes to the buyer, it’s like a localvore’s dream. Anyway, the buyer of the animal chooses what processing plant they want the animal to go to. From about early June until August we probably process close to 200+ hogs, 150+ lambs, and 60+ beef.
2: What is your favorite farm job?
My favorite job in the meat shop probably has to be making sausage. It’s not so monotonous as wrapping meat or making hamburger or something like that. But you’ve got to be very precise. You’ve got to weight up the spices and ingredients correctly, you’ve got to make sure all the ingredients/spices get in the correct meat base, and you’ve got to pay attention to what flavor you put into the sausage stuffer and be sure to tag it accordingly for when it goes into the smokehouse.
3: What is your least favorite farm job?
I always said my personal hell would be wrapping hams and beef chuck roasts. Hams are big, they are awkward and hard to put into vacuum bags. Chuck roasts contain bones that can pop the seal on the bags, they are also awkward. Plus you’ve got to wipe the bone dust from the saw off of the chuck roasts. And on a whole beef there can be 12-13 of those things! They just suck overall, but I love to cook them. So it’s a catch-22.
4: What type of truck do you drive (on the job) and why did you choose it?
My car/truck wasn’t really necessary to my job and before I moved to North Dakota, I drove a Ford Explorer Sport. I loved it, it was like an suv but drove like a car. I always called it my go-kart. It was compact and small, perfect for me. Large men like my father hated it. Now that I am becoming a farm wife, all we own is pickups. All Chevys. We own a 2004 Chevy Duramax which is a beast of a truck but I’ve managed to figure out how to drive it and even parallel park it. Our real farm truck is a 90’s (not sure what year) Chevy that the engine has been rebuilt. It’s our drive around town, out to the field, etc. truck. Our newest purchase has been a 2013 GMC Sierra. We needed a more reliable gas pickup that could travel long distances in the winter and not need to be warmed up for a half hour just to run down to the store in winter. The diesel gets put up for the winter unless we need it to haul.
5: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your line of work?
In a retail line of work the hardest lesson for me to learn was the customer is always right. And that resorting to arguing with the customer gets you nowhere. You are much better off to make them happy, whatever their issue, so that they will eventually come back and tell people about the good experience they had at your business. It was really hard for me sometimes to swallow my pride when I KNEW (100%) that they were wrong.
Also a life lesson that Dad taught me at a VERY young age when I used to complain WHY we had to go into work and that it wasn’t fair he would tell me, “Jenny, life isn’t fair.” It wasn’t what my seven year old self wanted to hear, but the older I get the more I realize that he is right. Life isn’t fair.
6: What do you think is the most valuable tool you have, the one you probably couldn’t live without?
At the meat shop, the most valuable tool we have is our vacuum sausage stuffer (Mercedes). She revolutionized our business, allowing us to make 400 lbs. of sausage in just under an hour whereas by hand that used to take basically all day.
7: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business/what you do?
Oh man there are so many… I think one of the biggest is that people make assumptions that people in the meat industry are only looking to make a huge profit so they use poor quality ingredients and fillers in order to make more money on something. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your product is going to be only as good as the products you put into it. You put poor quality into it, it doesn’t matter what you add to it, it’s not going to be good. A lot of people also think that we get meat for cheap and mark it up to sell it. This also is untrue. Meat markets fluctuate weekly and I can tell you sometimes we don’t even put a 20% markup on some items because we feel it would be too expensive for our customers to buy up. We take hits sometimes, but at the end of the day, we are a business just like everyone else. We have to be able to make a profit otherwise we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing.
8: If you could invest in a new piece of farm equipment tomorrow, what would it be?
Hmmm this is a tough one. Probably a bowl chopper to make hot dogs, bologna, etc. Basically it’s a big bowl that rotates and pushes meat into blades that are turning at a very high RPM and chops the meat up EXTREMELY fine. This would allow us to be able to grind meat for hot dogs in literally 10 minutes rather than the hour it takes us to grind them 3+ times through our regular meat grinder. Unfortunately, our processing room is so small I don’t know where it would go!? We already put everything on wheels so it can move in/out.
9: What was the most serious injury you ever suffered in the line of work?
Surprisingly working with knives, saws, and other dangerous objects, the worst injury I’ve ever received was slicing a bacon thickness slice off my thumb on our meat slicer. But it grew back and all I needed was a bandage. I have seen some nasty injuries… nobody has ever lost a finger or anything under my watch and I’ve only seen one cut bad enough to get stitches.
10: Least favorite animal to deal with?
Well I don’t have to deal with them alive so I will be speaking on behalf of which one I dislike processing and out of domestic animals that would be chickens. We don’t process chickens but we do wrap them for individual sale as well make sausage out of them. They are slimy and sticky. If you’ve ever dealt with raw chicken breasts you know what I am talking about… Now imagine grinding that all up and adding spices that make it even more sticky. It’s awful.
11: (excluding all of the above) What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?
I’ve had some good ones throughout the years… I think one of the most asked questions I receive is “was this animal happy before it was killed?” And this is a question I struggle with people asking when it comes to animals because how do you measure the “happiness” of an animal…? Is it by the fact that it is eating well? Gaining weight? Those are all my factors in identifying if an animal is satisfied. If an animal ate enough to gain weight and eventually make it to your plate, than yes, it was happy before it died. Stressed, “unhappy” animals don’t eat, don’t drink, and don’t gain weight. They won’t end up on your plate.
13: Thing you’d most like the public to know about what you do!
That we work extremely hard to produce quality products at prices we feel are fair and affordable to the average customer. Anything that we produce at Chico Locker we would feed directly to our family and friends. We are passionate about what we do and we care about the relationships we have with our customers. But I think anyone who is a customer of ours probably knows that. 🙂 Also that our doors are always open to people interesting in learning, always.
So what do you say Ag folks, who wants to take challenge? Let’s pass this around, I think it could be a great learning post for everyone!
And then read the answers from these wonderful Ag folks: