College teaches art of butchery

Students learn how to process an animal carcass ‘from nose to tail’

OLDS, Alta. — The motto on the coat of arms at the Olds College National Meat Training Centre declares: “revive the art.”

The centre has been operating since 1969, and teachers at the college wants people to think of butchery as an honourable profession.

“There was a period where if you said you were a butcher, people took a step back,” said Brad McLeod, head of the program for the last 15 years.

The recent opening of a spacious retail butcher shop on campus has allowed the program to take a step forward in its efforts to teach its students all there is to know about the meat trade.

The store has attracted customers from Calgary to Edmonton who appreciate a butcher shop that offers specialty products as well as high quality beef, lamb, pork and bison cuts.

“We are drawing people in from a large range because of what we do, how we do it,” said McLeod.

He said the school is the only one of its kind in North America.

Up to 16 students spend 15 weeks learning how to humanely handle animals in the barn and on the kill floor.

The facility, which was designed with help from University of Colorado animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, features non-slip flooring and a quiet environment as cattle, pigs and lambs are led to the stunning area for a humane death.

“Nobody teaches slaughter. Nobody trains butchers from the carcass anymore,” McLeod said.

Ten hogs and five cattle move through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved facility in an average week. Lamb and bison come from local farms.

“We learn how to use everything from nose to tail,” said Wayne Marietta, who graduates from the program at the end of April.

Students learn proper slaughter techniques, meat cutting, processing ground meat, sausage making and curing. They will learn recipes and regulations governing food safety.

“All the students are trained on every piece of equipment, so once you get into the industry you will be able to use different pieces of equipment,” Marietta said.

The students come from varied backgrounds. Most are mature students and many are like Marietta, who tried different jobs and now want a career. Students have ranged in age from 16 to 62.

Some are chefs who wanted to learn more about meat cutting, while others started their own shops or found jobs in the meat business in large and small processing facilities.

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