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FARGO -- If you'd like to try pizza brats, garlic bacon or blueberry maple meat sticks, North Dakota State University's Meat Lab provides a unique opportunity for students and the public.

Students learn how to slaughter livestock and process meat, which the public can buy.

"The meat lab's main purpose is teaching and research," said Austen Germolus, who manages the meat lab. "We're teaching students how to process meat, how to grade meat, how pricing works."

They learn a lot about meat in general, from curing bacon and ham to making sausage and brats. They learn about the intricacies of different cuts of steak and the proper way to cook different cuts of roast.

"It's everything from hoof to plate," Germolus said.

Students taking meat processing classes spend some time in the lab. Some students are also hired to work there on a regular basis.

"They are starting here as freshmen and working here until they are seniors, leaving with a valuable experience that a lot of other students don't get the chance to have," Germolus said. "It's a unique opportunity with a lot of possibilities for jobs and careers after college. There's a lot of need for undergraduate students to work in the meat industry."

Spencer Wirt is the lab's assistant manager. He worked there as an undergraduate student for three years.

"You get to know the true knowledge behind farm to table," he said. "You get to know that connection."

He's also learned what different cuts of steak mean. His favorite to eat is a flat iron steak.

"It's kind of an underrated cut," he said. "It comes out of the chuck of a beef, so the front shoulder. It's tender, flavorful. It's got lots of marbling and it's a cheaper cut."

His experience in the lab helped him land a job managing a slaughter facility before he even graduated.

"This job as an undergrad changed my whole course of career," he said. "This facility itself is kind of one of a kind. You have your young students who don't know what they're going to do. They have an interest in meats and we teach them, we show them exactly what it's like so they can get a better handle on that. While they're doing that, they not only get the aspects of the meat science, but they get retail experience, they get everything combined into one job."

David Leier, a senior agricultural education major who grew up on a diversified livestock operation, has been working at the meat lab for four years.

"A lot of this is stuff I'm going to be able to apply to the classroom when I am able to teach," he said.

Bayleigh Antonsen, a senior animal science major who grew up on a dairy and crop farm, has worked in the meat lab since her freshman year.

"Not only have I learned a lot about meat processing and what goes into a good quality meat product, I've also learned a lot about animals and anatomy and animal health while working here," she said.

Antonsen said she didn't know what to expect when she learned to slaughter the animals, but she doesn't mind doing it.

"Slaughter is such a touchy subject," she said. "There is a lot of care. It's very thought-out."

The lab has packaged meats available to buy. Customers can order half or mixed quarters of beef, or whole or half hogs or lamb. The lab also does custom orders.

"We work just like a regular butcher shop," Germolus said.

When someone orders a whole hog, which typically weighs around 200 pounds, they usually end up getting around 100 pounds of meat, he said.

"It's typically a better deal to do it that way than going to a retail store," he said. "The main thing is, the meat came from one specific animal, and it was raised locally."

Most of the livestock processed in the meat lab comes from NDSU animals used for research and teaching. The lab is a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughter and processing facility, so all of the meat is safe to consume, Germolus said. The lab will also buy livestock from local farmers.

The money made on sales to the public helps keep the lab running. Bacon and brats are some of the lab's more popular items, he said.

"I think it's the flavor and just the idea that students are making it that makes it that much more special," he said.

Sales have increased over the years. Germolus said people like the idea of buying from NDSU, and it's the only butcher shop in Fargo that processes livestock from slaughter through packaging.

"It's kind of the hidden secret of NDSU," he said. "We have a lot to offer."

What: North Dakota State University Meat Lab

Where: Shepperd Arena, NDSU campus, 1350 Albrecht Blvd., Fargo

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m Saturday, with some holiday restrictions

Contact: (701) 231-8107 or ndsu.meats@ndsu.edu

Online: www.ag.ndsu.edu/ansc/facilities/shepperd-arena