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Jellica Ballou, Published January 08 2012

It's My Job: NDSU offers prime education in meat sciences

FARGO – Austen Germolus started out at North Dakota State University as a landscape and architecture undergrad, and now he’s getting his master’s degree in meat science.

As the meat laboratory manager on NDSU’s campus, it is Germolus’ job to educate students and the community about all different aspects of the meat industry.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the meat science program here?

A: The meat science program is new not in the way that it’s been here for years and years and years, but now we’re offering a meat science elective where students can enroll in the animal science major.

It’s new, and it’s interesting, and the meat industry is huge in the nation and the world.

What kinds of things go on in the meat lab?

The meat lab is like any local butcher shop except it’s in an educational setting. It’s common for a land grant university to have meat labs.

The biggest thing is research and education, about slaughtering livestock, meat quality, how muscle is affected by feed stuffs, like hay, corn, field peas, grass.

The meat lab serves as an education for why we raise livestock for meat.

The three main species we have are cattle, swine and sheep.

Students learn how to process meat from a carcass to what you see in a grocery store.

How did you end up with this position?

I started school here in 2003, and I started in landscaping and architecture, which is a lot different from what I do now.

It wasn’t for me, so I switched to a degree in (agriculture economics).

I got a job in the meat lab as an undergrad employee.

I grew up with horses, but no livestock background, and no meat background except for hunting.

From there I moved to interim student manager. Then I applied for full time, and I’m working on a master’s in meat science.

What’s your favorite part of this job?

Students. The gratification that I can take what I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been here.

There have been students who have left and still come back to me for questions and for answers.

It wouldn’t be the meat lab without undergrads around.

You also sell the meat that’s processed here, right?

Yes. We’re buying cattle, buying pigs, and after the research is completed on it, it goes to retail to the public. It’s sold in Sheppard (Arena) Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the school year.

People seem to be very happy with what they get. We sell everything from bacon to ground beef to jerky and so on. We keep trying to expand our horizons.

One huge aspect of the meat lab is not only am I learning but students learn, too, to take that knowledge and spread it to other people.

People are getting so far removed from agriculture.

What is your day to day like?

Every day isn’t the same. There’s so much going on, whether it’s a new class or new personnel or new research or a new program or an idea for a new program.

It’s a federally inspected facility.

There are three inspectors that are watching over and making sure things are done correctly from when the livestock are brought in to when the meat is placed in the cooler.

It’s something that has to be done daily, making sure (the lab) is sanitized and in order.

In Sheppard Arena, even with one classroom, an arena and the meat lab, we see about 1,000-plus students come here every week.

There’s always something new and interesting.

There’s always a challenge, and I welcome those.

How do you spread that knowledge to other people in the community who might not know a lot about meat science?

One positive thing we’ve done for the past three years is BBQ boot camp. It started in the ag department and just sort of grew from there. That involves us going out in the state and talking to customers.

The Extension agents from different counties work with us. A lot of states don’t have Extension like North Dakota.

It’s open to anyone. We limit registration because we can’t cook a meal for everyone.

We usually run four or five different stations on different topics, like spices and marinades, degree of doneness, grilling and nutrition, barbecue and livestock industry.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jessica Ballou at (701) 237-7311