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A Cut Above

May 15, 2024

Madison High School sophomore Tayton Price didn’t hesitate to pick up a bone saw and start carving large pieces from the pig carcass at his group’s table, mimicking a demonstration University of Idaho meat scientist Phil Bass gave at the start of class.

Throughout the remainder of the 70-minute period, four groups of beginning animal science students took turns dividing their pig carcass into primal cuts — which are large sections of meat that are the first to be separated during butchering, including the shoulder, leg, loin and side.

Bass made the trip from Moscow to guest teach at the Rexburg high school on May 7, introducing youth to meat science as an often overlooked but rewarding career that pays well and desperately needs labor. Bass hopes it will be the first of many meat-cutting demonstrations and lessons he’ll host in Idaho high schools in the coming years.

For Price, the class was a highlight of the school year and an eye-opening experience. Price said he can envision himself working as a meat cutter. At the minimum, he’s an avid hunter, and the skills should pay off when he next harvests a deer.

“You actually get to see the specific cuts and the primals,” said Price, who worked with a surgeon’s confidence and precision. “I had done this with my grandpa one time when I was younger. I think I know a lot of the basics, but it’s definitely good to learn more.”

During the activity, students impressed Bass by correctly identifying several bones and muscle groups. Many of them echoed vocabular terms Bass used in his demonstration as they surveyed the spareribs, roasts, bacon and sausage meat they’d carved. The class will continue the lesson with their agriculture teacher, Patrick Dixon, further breaking the meat down into sub-primal and retail cuts.

Dixon is a 2005 U of I agricultural education graduate who takes FFA members to annual meat science competitions run by Bass. Dixon also serves on the board of directors for the Steer-A-Year program within U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Dixon and Bass planned the cutting demonstration during a Steer-A-Year meeting last fall. Dixon believes the experience should make his students better consumers, able to prepare meat properly and spot the best buys. He’s also receptive to any experience that raises their awareness of career options.

“I think the industry is starving for good meat cutters, and I think when you get somebody like Phil Bass here, who is an expert in that industry, I think maybe he opens some doors for those kids,” Dixon said. “If they are interested in doing this someday, he has connections or pathways to help direct some of those kids into that field.”

To improve its facilities and meet increasing demand in the field, U of I has broken ground on a 12,750-square-foot abattoir that should open in the fall of 2025, to be called the Meat Science and Innovation Center Honoring Ron Richard. Bass emphasized new meat plants are also opening throughout Idaho, including two new beef plants in Idaho Falls, a new beef plant in Kuna, a new beef plant in Jerome and several other small operations that are growing and will need additional staff.

Out of high school, workers can earn at least $20 per hour on the floor of a meat plant. U of I offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in animal and veterinary science: production option that prepares graduates for higher-paying managerial jobs in meat processing.

“This is a new thing we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help folks realize there are career opportunities in meat processing, and most young kids don’t even get an opportunity to see animals and carcasses,” Bass said. “This is a chance for them to get exposed to it. I hope this is just the beginning of something big.”

Published in Catching Up with CALS

High school students getting hands-on experience identifying and dividing carcasses into primal cuts for butchering.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at


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