SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Driving along U.S. Highway 12 in northeastern South Dakota, you can’t miss the newest building in the town of Andover.
Located in between Aberdeen and Webster, Andover has a listed population of 66 according to the 2020 US Census Bureau. It’s also home of The Meathouse, one of South Dakota’s newest federally-inspected animal slaughter and processing shops owned by the Morehouse family.
Justin Morehouse, owner/manager of The Meathouse, told KELOLAND News the idea behind opening a USDA inspected meat processing shop started in 2020. The turning point came when a retired federal meat inspector from Illinois stopped by the family farm while looking for a place to hunt pheasants.
“We kind of took that as a sign that we were supposed to run with this thing,” Morehouse said. “He helped us out, got us some more connections from people that were on the federal side that were still working in the business and everything.”
In June 2022, The Meathouse started building on the location in Andover, four miles north of where the Morehouse family farm can be found. In May, The Meathouse officially opened and it harvested its first animals under USDA inspection in August.
Morehouse said there’s always been a small butcher shop on the family farm as well where his dad has been butchering since the 1970s.
“I’ve been butchering and doing that stuff basically since I was big enough to hold a knife,” said Morehouse, adding his father has been butchering since the 1970s.
But butchering animals on the farm is one thing. Harvesting animals for public consumption by following federal rules and regulations takes it to a new level.
“That’s a huge, huge jump,” Morehouse said. “It’s zero tolerance, I mean that that animal is spotless when we get done. Having it all recorded down on paperwork, having a paper trail for everything following that animal all the way through the process.”
Morehouse said when a facility becomes USDA approved, the meat can be shipped all across the country. Another newer butcher shop in western South Dakota, Wall Meats Rapid, recently became USDA certified in July.
Morehouse said there’s plenty of cattle producers who want their own cattle processed for their own use and many meat lockers have waitlists six months to more than a year out.
“It’s just hard to get spots anymore,” Morehouse said. “South Dakota, as a whole, would benefit from having several of these pop up all over the state.”
At peak capacity, The Meathouse will be able to process 30 head of cattle a week and beef will be a majority of the production, but the facility was built to handle bison processing as well.
“The biggest need right now is the beef,” Morehouse said. “A lot of what we do right now is custom, we’re doing it for other people. But, we would like to get to a point where we are running more of our own cattle through here.”
Brad Morehouse, Justin’s father, said that allows the family farm to become more sustainable into the future.
“Maybe the price is going to be there, maybe things are going to be there,” Brad said. “All of a sudden factors change and times change, we can roll with them a little bit but we have control of how we do it.”
Future of beef processing in rural America
The Morehouse family farm stopped milking cows in 2005 and soon switched to raising cattle with a feedlot. The family operation produces about 500 calves a year.
Justin said The Meathouse building in Andover wasn’t built for a “quick dollar” but built to last.
“It’s not just cutting meat in this place,” Brad said. “You can go from breeding cattle, go be a trucker down the road to ship feed, ship cattle around and maybe even go in and do educational programs with people.”
Brad said more education is needed in the beef industry because too many don’t understand the steps it takes to get cattle through to a certain meal.
“There’s just opportunities all the way across it being in management positions, working positions, just all the way across this whole thing,” Brad said.
In the few months The Meathouse has been open, Justin said there’s been customers looking for meat to be processed from as far as western North Dakota.
“It’s benefiting a really big area,” Justin said. “People are glad that we’re doing this and taking on a project of this size on.”
Adding more competition into the beef industry has been a priority for both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both the executive and legislative branches of federal government. In the U.S., 26 major plants process 80-85% of the beef in the USA. Those plants are owned by four main companies — JBS, Tyson, Cargill and National Beef.
Workforce remains a challenge
Justin pointed to finding workers as a big challenge, like many other businesses across the state. He said production won’t ramp up until more workers are hired.
“The biggest thing, it’s learning all the programs and all the steps that USDA does require,” Justin said. “You buy a package of meat in the store, you don’t really understand that. Now, being right in the middle of it, I’m forced to understand it and learn it. I’m not saying it’s bad having to do it, it’s just something that we got to do.”
Brad said safety will always be a challenge because that’s the main reason USDA has so many rules and regulations.
“All laws and rules don’t fit this particular little butcher shop, but we understand why they were made,” Brad said. “The inspectors are people too and they understand different things and we’re getting along really well. It comes down to quality and safety is what we’re about.”