By BLAKE ALSUP, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
MANTACHIA, Mississippi (AP) – In the height of Mississippi deer season, more than a dozen students wearing white butcher coats and hairnets take up their posts at the meat lab stations every day from Mantachie High School to treat deer.
The Mantachia meat processing class is the only one of its kind in the state of Mississippi.
Students bone and cut tiny steaks, which are then tenderized and placed in vacuum-sealed bags. What is left on the bone is cut and made into a breakfast sausage, burger, or meat stew, depending on the customer’s preference.
At the end of the day, the students’ butcher’s jackets are washed and all surfaces and equipment are thoroughly cleaned.
Matt Spradling, a food professor at Mantachia, is in his fourth year as an instructor for two meat processing courses. His Meats 1 course covers the basics of safety, sanitation and the cutting process. By the time students reach Meats 2 class, they know how to treat cows, pigs, and deer with limited guidance.
The class begins processing deer on October 1, the first day of deer season. They cut the meat one day a week until mid-November, when gun season opens. Then the students cut almost every day until they went out for Christmas vacation.
When the students return after the break, they will process the meat daily until mid-February, when the deer season ends in Alabama.
A WINNER FOR STUDENTS AND HUNTERS
The meat processing class was created in 1989 and today has around thirty students in both classes.
Students primarily process deer – typically between 500 and 550 per year – but they also process around 50 pigs and eight cows per year.
Over the years, the Mantachie High School boutique has grown in popularity through word of mouth. Spradling brought in deer hunters from as far away as Houston, Mississippi, and Red Bay, Alabama.
Hunters can drop off their deer at the Mantachia store for processing only during school hours, 7:15 am to 3:00 pm.
The deer are hung in the cooler room at a temperature of around 35 degrees for three to eight days to allow the meat to age before being slaughtered. After being processed, the meats are stored in a freezer, which is kept between 0 and 2 degrees.
It costs $ 35 to $ 45 for students to process a deer, depending on what cuts of meat the customer wants.
Students get hands-on experience learning a valuable skill, and hunters pay less to process their meat, making it a win-win situation for everyone involved.
All money generated from meat processing goes to the school’s FFA chapter and is used to purchase supplies for the meat lab and pay for trips to competitions or to pay for FFA jackets.
âIt’s a teaching tool,â Spradling said. “But it also helps pay for some of the other things we do in the chapter.”
“SOMETHING VERY LITTLE CAN DO”
In the Spradling classroom, students learn skills such as retail identification, marketing, supply and demand, packaging, display, and pricing.
âIt teaches you something that very few people can yet do,â said Spradling. “It teaches you a lot of skills, (like) if you were to kill something, cut it up, clean it, preserve it, and disinfect everything as you need it.” You might even make a living with it.
Tanner Boutwell, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student, is already putting the skills learned in the Spradling class to good use.
Boutwell’s stepfather recently opened a meat processing business in Mantachie called Comer’s Meat Shack. After cutting meat at school, he goes home to do the same.
Boutwell has observed the treatment of deer since he was 6 years old, but learned the ins and outs of the process at Mantachie High.
âI first learned here, then I continued and used it,â Boutwell said. âI learned to separate a hindquarter, pieces of beef, stuff that I wouldn’t really know if I wasn’t there. “
Boutwell appreciates the practicality of the course, as he prepares the meat himself. He plans to become a farmer, but believes he will continue to be involved in deer transformation throughout his life.
âIt taught me a real life skill that I can actually carry on with my life and use later,â he said.
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