While some SDSU students are grossed out by dissecting frogs in biology, most students in the Introduction to Meat Science class are not afraid to get a little dirty. Their class projects: slaughtering pigs and cattle.
“For me, it’s a thrill and adrenaline rush,” said Matt Altman, a sophomore animal science major. “You have a 1,200 pound cow rolling out of the gate (after it is rendered unconscious), and you have to get a rope and get it hung up right away. It’s a thrill because you have to know what you’re doing. You have to do it good and do it fast.”
Altman, who took the class last spring, said the class is about more than just slaughtering and follows meat through the whole cycle: from the time it is muscle on an animal to when it is ready to be served. Slaughtering both pigs and cattle are just two of the 15 labs throughout the semester, but for most students, those labs are the most fun.
While slaughtering cattle – which is done under the supervision of a professor, teaching assistants and a government inspector – Altman said the first part of the procedure moves quickly. He estimated that within 10 minutes of being rendered unconscious, the animal is ready to be skinned.
It is through the speed of the process and other factors that make the process humane, said Dani Herring, a junior agricultural education major.
“The meat industry often gets a bad rap because outsiders believe they are harming the animal,” she said. “Harvesting is done in the most humane way possible, however it will be less stressful to the animal, which is why they are rendered unconscious first.”
While the first part is done quickly, the second part of the process is more time-consuming. The skin has to be removed, but the worker must be careful to not contaminate the meat with the dirty hide. The beef carcass is also gutted before a final inspection, and students must work diligently and delicately so the intestines do not tear.
“(Tempo-wise) it’s like a roller coaster,” Altman said. “You start going up a big hill, then you hit the top as the animal is getting slaughtered, and it’s a big thrill ride the whole way down. Then, you need to take it easy.”
After slaughtering livestock at both a meat locker back home and in class, Altman said now he looks at meat in a different way.
“The 241 lab really opened a lot of people’s eyes to where steak and hamburger come from,” he said. “It makes you respect the meat because you know how hard it is to get that steak for dinner.”
Herring agreed. “There is also a sense of pride associated thinking that you have harvested that animal and someday soon someone will get the opportunity to nourish themselves because of it.”
Apart from slaughtering, students in the class learn many other aspects of the industry, said Duane Wulf and Amanda Weaver, professors of the Introduction to Meat Science class. In lecture, the professors teach students about food safety, meat quality issues, meat in the diet, muscle structure and physiology and issues facing the meat industry. During one lecture, students get to taste test meat from different countries, such as India, China, Hungary and Italy.
In labs, the topics also vary. The class features labs on cookery, fabrication or the cutting of the meat, anatomy, curing meat to make ham and bacon and creating several types of sausages, like jalapeno and cheddar. Weaver and Wulf said eating some of these projects is just one perk of many.
Most students in the class are animal science, pre-veterinary, hotel and foodservice management, food science and agriculture-related majors, but the class is available to everyone. Wulf said many students initially take the class just because it is required.
“Hardly anybody comes to SDSU as freshmen and thinks they want to go work in the meat industry,” he said. “Most people have no clue about it.”
After the class, though, some students have a real passion for the industry, Weaver said.
“So many kids get excited about something they’ve never considered before, never thought too much about,” she said.
Altman might fit this category. Although he certainly knew about the industry from working in a meat locker at home, the Introduction to Meat Science class helped solidify his interest.
“It blew everything thing out of proportion for me. ? I thought, ‘Wow, this is really what I want to do.'”
Since taking the class, Altman has started a meat science club on campus. He encourages anyone slightly interested in meats to join and to take Introduction to Meat Science.
“If someone’s not into slaughtering and cutting, there’s a part of the class for everyone,” he said.
“It’s a new experience, and that is what college is all about: getting a lot of different experiences.”
Herring agreed. “It has been one of my favorite classes at college, and I would advise anyone who likes meat (to take the class),” Herring said. “It’s a great hands-on, student-oriented class.”
#1.882290:525235625.jpg:Meat.Lab.3.BVW.CMYK.jpg:Professor Duane Wulf demonstrates the proper cutting technique to several students during an Introduction to Meat Science lab.:#1.882289:4263555332.jpg:Meat.Lab.1.BVW.CMYK.jpg:Senior agricultural education major Ben Wise trims the fat off of a cut of beef during an Introduction to Meat Science lab.: