Jared Hamilton, fourth generation Wyomingite and owner of Sweetwater Custom Meats, prepares to “knock” a black angus cow, one of many steps in the farm-to-table meat processing business that allow no room for error. (Matthew Copeland/WyoFile)

First, you have to shoot a cow in the head.

Be quick. You’ll only have a split second to decide on the shot and pull the trigger once she looks you in the eye. Be sure too. Tyler, Brie, Roxanne and the reporter are in the concrete kill-room with you. It’s no place to let a .22 magnum round go walkabout. And if the animal ever knows what hit it… well, missing is just not an option.

Actually, no, that’s not quite right.

First, you have to see the opportunity. You have to look at the processing bill from one of your own beeves; consider all the mom-and-pop meat packers that have closed shop; weigh the forces of consolidation, centralization and global scale that have syphoned business out of state for decades; and see a chance — a chance to turn a UW ag business degree, a four-generation relationship with community and landscape, a budding local food movement, and an abiding passion for family ranching and local enterprise into a viable business.

At least that’s what Wyoming Custom Meats owner Jared Hamilton did 11 years ago in Hudson. He was 22 years old at the time.

He started planning. He built a business plan for the bankers. It was child’s play compared to the scientifically airtight production process plans required by the the state inspectors.

Brie Bonella rolls a freshly prepared, state-inspected side of beef into a refrigerated meat-locker to dry-age. After aging, the exclusively Wyoming-raised beef will be further broken down into its constituent cuts and value-added products, packaged, labeled and either sold to restaurant, grocery store and retail customers or returned to a custom processing client. (Matthew Copeland/WyoFile)

To say nothing of the supply chain planning which still occupies much of his week. Slaughter capacity, cooler space, the growth rates of his own animals, fabrication and packaging times, disparate walk-in retail interest between various cuts, and fluctuating demand from restaurant and grocery store clients all require balancing, and they’re just a handful of the variables in the complex work-flow equation that’s never quite solved. But eight paychecks and hundreds of relationships, depend on getting it right, so the pencil stays sharp and the spreadsheet stays open.

Add in the regulatory paperwork, the endless equipment repair and the back-office burdens of any small business and 12-hour workdays fill-up in a hurry. Enough so that one might be forgiven for delegating the mess, clamor and permeating aroma of twice weekly slaughters.

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But no, it all comes back to the steamy abattoir with the cattle, the sharp knives, and the matte black gun, because some things have to be done right, or not at all.

And because nobody gets their local, grass-fed T-bone until you get your hands bloody.

Matthew Copeland

Matthew Copeland is the chief executive & editor of WyoFile. Contact him at matthew@wyofile.com or (307) 287-2839. Follow Matt on Twitter at @WyoCope

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