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Tate Johnson (left) and Caleb Edens cut the carcasses in ANSI 3333 Meat Science.
Tate Johnson (left) and Caleb Edens cut the carcasses in ANSI 3333 Meat Science. (Photo by Rachel Bucher)

From Classroom to Meat Case

Monday, January 9, 2023

Media Contact: Kaitlyn Weldon | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

It’s Orange Friday on the Oklahoma State University campus.

As you walk down Farm Road between Agricultural Hall and the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, the wind blows the smell of savory smoked sausage through the air.

The tasty aroma comes from the cooking samples of a new sausage at Cowboy Meats, OSU’s reopened meat retailstore.

“We used to have a Cowboy Meats retail store,” said Chuck Willoughby, FAPC business and marketing relations manager. “The idea behind it was to help recover some of the costs of teaching and research programs.”

The original Cowboy Meats retail store opened in the old meat lab building in 1967, decades before FAPC existed.

The building was demolished to build FAPC.

FAPC initially reopened Cowboy Meats in 1998 and closed it in 2003. Willoughby said the second store closed because of the lack of public parking to access the store and an inability to operate in the black.

The cost and availability of employees needed to run Cowboy Meats efficiently also led to its closure, said Joel Jackson, FAPC Meat Pilot Plant manager.

Marketing and advertising without the benefits of social media was another challenge faced by the first retail store in FAPC, Jackson added.

“Many university meat labs have retail counters across the country,” Jackson said. “There was definitely a need for the store.

“By bringing the store back, not only will we be able to sell products, but also people can support the university, various programs in animal and food sciences, livestock judging and meat judging,” he added. “It’s a full circle.”

Cowboy Meats sells the products used in animal science classes like livestock judging, meat judging and carcass evaluation.

The retail store is a fantastic way to keep freezer space available and give products a purpose beyond education, Jackson added.

The proceeds from sales at Cowboy Meats go back to the department’s educational programs. By selling the products, the retail store can help pay for some of the cost incurred from running a processing facility on campus.

A big part of reopening Cowboy Meats was using digital platforms to share information and promote the new store, Jackson said.

Willoughby’s marketing team — Andrea Graves, Erin Johnson and Kirsten Hollansworth — all contributed to the promotion of the reopened retail store.

The first thing the team did was promote Cowboy Meats at OSU Staff Celebration Day in May 2022 to let the community know about the reopening.

“One of the things we did early to help with branding is acquiring the phone number 405-744-MEAT,” Willoughby said. “We discovered a professor in another department had the number. We asked him if he would be willing to trade, and he was fine with that.”

Beyond marketing, Cowboy Meats is operated by students throughout the entire process.

Students participate in the harvest, fabrication and processing of various meats.

“It’s all about the students,” Jackson said. “That’s the major component in the program.”

When the student workers graduate, they have one to four years of experience going into the industry.

“Students don’t just get experience on the processing side or the packaging side,” Jackson said. “They are introduced in every aspect from start to finish.

“Whenever they jump into the job market, they know what to expect, and they’re several steps ahead of a lot of entry-level applicants,” he added.

The program helps students gain real-world experience, said Cole McKinney, a Cowboy Meats student worker and graduate student.

Students learn about sanitation and risk prevention programs, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point.

“Students get to slowly learn these processes instead of just being thrown into the industry,” McKinney said. “It allows them to better understand the reason behind these processes, so when they are in the industry they have a foundation of knowledge.”

Learning the retail side of the meat industry has been eye-opening and educational, McKinney said.

“A lot of people in the Stillwater community like to support the university and students,” Willoughby said. “When they know Cowboy Meats is here, they like the idea of buying their meat here.”

While Cowboy Meats focuses on selling ready-to-go inventory, Willoughby said they offer custom slaughter and processing for customers as well as sides and quarters of beef, pork and lamb.

Customers can choose from steaks, ground beef, bacon, sausage, boudin and more. The store also offers meats such as beef heart and tongue for the culinary explorers.

Cowboy Meats is open Fridays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in FAPC’s Dock 4. Customers can walk into the retail store to see the new inventory and purchase local meat from the freezer.

Retail store staff see a lot of the local community coming to purchase meat because of the good press and social media coverage, he said.

Willoughby said the store could be open more, but the future of Cowboy Meats relies on data from the current operation with the hope to expand the store and its offerings.

Story By: Rachel Bucher | Cowboy Journal

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