Western Meat School

An online meat school will help with direct marketing beef to consumers.

With beef shortages widespread, some beef producers have thought about selling to local or niche markets or direct marketing to consumers, but want to know more about the business side of the process.

“Local meat production has seen increasing growth over the last decade, and there was a big push this spring and summer as a result of COVID-19,” said Thomas Bass, Montana State University Extension livestock environment associate specialist. “With the pandemic, consumers saw the effects of disrupted national and continental supply chains, and ‘stocking up,’ became common at the grocery store.”

That is where direct marketing of beef to consumers comes in.

An online six-week program from Montana State University and Oregon State University will offer a new ag business development course on direct marketing meat, giving producers options, and spreading risk through connecting directly with consumers.

Called “The Western Meat School,” it is an online learning experience for farmers, ranchers, Extension agents and others, but is not a butchering course.

The six-week course will meet on Wednesday evenings beginning Nov. 4 for a few individuals in Billings, Mont. For the rest of the participants, the entire course will be available in real time online.

With COVID, Bass says consumers are more interested in supporting local supply chains, such as purchasing from their local farmers, ranchers, processors, grocers, farmer’s markets and other local entities.

“The meat course is a full business feasibility and development course, covering many topics that would allow an experienced rancher or farmer to launch a new enterprise, one that they may have never considered or had experience in,” he explained.

A very important theme throughout the primary modules is matching production and processing to market opportunities and consumer interest, establishing good communication and business relationships throughout the entire supply chain (production, processing, retailing, consumers…), and basically shifting one’s perspective from being a piece of a large supply chain to being active and engaged throughout a shorter local/regional supply chain. 

The course presenters are a mix of academics, producers, processors and marketers. 

“The business speakers will reveal issues that the average farmer or rancher may have never considered in launching a meat business,” he added.  

“Anyone can sign up and pay and take the course online in any state, but the main states participating are Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico,” Bass said.

While there will always be a place for affordable beef and other proteins from the conventional livestock and poultry system, “local meats answer niche consumer demands and provide new opportunities for producers,” he said.

Some examples Bass points to include:

  • Diversifying markets beyond cow/calf models.
  • Backgrounding to keep calves longer for a different market.
  • Imbedding a niche or local beef enterprise into an existing ranch as an opportunity for a new generation to return earlier
  • Providing a market scale that may be more accessible to new and beginning producers as a whole.

“Colorado piloted the course last year, and from the feedback they received, it was a success,” Bass said.

The course cost is $120 per individual or $160 for couples or business partners, with online registration at https://westernmeatschool.com/enroll. Registration is open now and discounts may be available for attendees from Montana.

For more information on the course and USDA Western SARE-funded discounts, email or call Tommy Bass, livestock environment associate specialist with MSU Extension, at tmbass@montana.edu or 406-994-5733.

More information is available at westernmeatschool.com/.