Garitt Irey explains where two commercial smokers will go inside their processing shop in Edgeley. Butcher’s Edge will eventually offer fresh meat in a retail setting including smoked meats.

 

Garrit Irey leans inside the doorway of his holding pen, focused on garage doors that bookend the receiving area of The Butcher’s Edge in Edgeley. It’s literally a drive-through for cattle producers.

“Every rancher that has dropped cattle off to this point has commented how easy this is,” he said.

It’s like they thought of everything. It was just over a year ago five men got together — Irey, Jay Mathern, Grant Mathern, Tim Mock and Mike Schlosser — and secured financing for a new facility that could process 80 animals a month. They started the construction process July 15, 2021, worked through the winter and eventually processed their first animal at the end of May 2022.

Not bad for what started as a simple conversation three years ago. 

“We were talking about how hard it is to get animals in (to be processed),” he said. “And Tim was doing quite a lot out of his place for friends and family with his own animals.”

As market concentration has put a stranglehold on meat and poultry processing nationwide leading to higher prices in the grocery store, more emphasis is being placed on regional processing businesses like The Butcher’s Edge.

Already a custom-exempt facility in which it can process animals for ranchers, the business is headed toward becoming a state-inspected facility by “late summer.” That would allow ranchers who get their animals processed there to sell their own beef.

More importantly, it means The Butcher’s Edge can offer a retail shop for consumers with fresh cuts and specialized products.

“The retail aspect drove it more than anything,” said Irey, who is also the Farmers Union Insurance agent in Edgeley. “We wanted to have a place where people could buy good, local meat. We all have a passion for it. We want people to know where their beef is coming from and be proud of it. We don’t want to bring in boxed beef from some truck out of San Francisco. We truly believe in having product (sourced) from within 60 miles of here to sell to our customers.”

That passion was evident from the beginning. Irey said they toured a dozen plants throughout the Midwest, and a few of them even took a meat science course in Kansas City.

“We did a lot of homework,” he said. “We toured plants and heard ideas from guys who said that if they could redo it, they would change this or do this different. And we wanted to make this as automated as possible, so this is the end result of those visits and experiences.”

With help from the rural development office at the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, the business received an Ag Products Utilization Commission (APUC) grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. They used those funds to complete a feasibility study.

“It was very comprehensive,” he said. “They plugged in our model, with average wait times, prices, and it came back positive that we could cash flow if we hit a certain number of cattle each week.”

They received financing with the help of an interest buydown from the Bank of North Dakota. From there, construction started, and the five men haven’t looked back. Not that they would have the time to do that anyway. Building a meat processing plant takes time.

“We started building and framing mid-to-late October (after the concrete was poured),” Irey said. “We basically spent late fall and all winter and spring in here. It felt like every night and weekend.”

They didn’t start from scratch, though. They chose to renovate an abandoned building on the west side of Highway 281.”

“This building just sat here,” Irey said. “We were able to purchase it for a reasonable price, and it’s right off 281. That was a huge selling point. We were excited to be able to repurpose a community building.”

Irey said the facility is built to process 20 animals a week but could handle 25 in the future, if everything falls into place. It also includes a smokehouse where the group hopes to put two commercial smokers to sell smoked meats in the retail shop.

“We want to do all of the value-added projects,” he said. “We want to be here for the long haul. So far, everything’s been positive. We have a social media presence on Facebook, and we have immediate openings right now.”

— Chris Aarhus, NDFU