Quality meats, tasty treats at Chico State’s Meats Lab


Melvin Bui

Meats Lab student Alexandria Ramirez boxing the freshly made sausages for a package, taken on Oct. 15, 2021.

Run by a crew of eight students preparing to enter the meat industry, Chico State’s Meats Lab is Butte County’s only USDA-inspected meat processing facility. In the pandemic’s early days, the lab helped provide discounted beef to local businesses struggling to survive the lockdown.

“They’re starting to come back, the businesses that survived COVID,” said Garret Bunyard, head student assistant and lab technician. 

Bunyard said that the lab helped struggling small businesses when beef prices increased during the pandemic. They were able to butcher meat for customers who couldn’t go through their usual pre-pandemic sources. They helped Chico Locker & Sausage Co when they encountered this problem.

Bunyard is majoring in agricultural business and will graduate in December. He’s worked in the lab for four years.

“Since this pandemic, I think a lot of people kind of saw the ugly side of corporate America and how important and essential these small businesses are,” he said.

Most of the livestock is raised on the farm, but the lab accepts animals from local farmers and processes them. It has customers from all over Northern California. Research and data is collected for all of the animals, which allows the farm to show how well they are doing compared to other years. The lab does not sell poultry. However, it has various cuts of lamb, goat, pork and beef

“We try to reach out to the community, just to kind of bridge that gap between urban America and your agriculturalists,” Bunyard said. 

The number of animals being processed is always changing to meet public demand. 

“There is no typical day here at the Meats Lab. We are constantly juggling between class, faculty, and research needs,” said Warren Dayton, Meats Lab student, “along with meeting public demands for our meat sales on Thursdays and Fridays. This month we harvested approximately 20 beef [cows] and 40 hogs.”

Meats Lab student Warren Dayton standing in the harvesting room of the Meats Lab, taken on Oct. 15, 2021.

All of the meat must meet USDA standards in order to be sold. Meat that isn’t USDA grade can only be eaten by the person who raised the livestock. A USDA inspector is always present on the harvesting floor watching to ensure that the process is humane and sanitary.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many man-hours it takes to do the work we do,” Dayton said. “But some of our record speeds with a crew full of experienced students takes about one hour to process a full beef.”

The meat lab butchers animals once a week. Meat Lab students bring the animal into the harvesting room and euthanize it with a quick-puncture-rod, sanitize the carcass and then break it down to manageable pieces which are processed in the adjacent room. 

Meats Lab students are allowed to work eight hours per day, and no more than 20 hours a week. Students in the apprenticeship program are required to work more than 80 hours throughout the semester.  

Bunyard said people are growing tired of getting their meat from big corporate stores. He added that their customers like to support local businesses and help students learn a trade “while also keeping the dollars here at home.” 

On a normal day, the lab averages roughly 35 to 50 customers. However, a majority of these customers aren’t Chico State students, but local individuals and small businesses.

“I feel that more students should visit the Meats Lab because not many students outside of the College of Agriculture even know we exist,” said Luz Morelos, Meats Lab student. “We love seeing our regular customers, but it’s always nice and exciting to share what we do here with Chico State students. The Meats Lab is more than just a butcher shop, and we hope that Chico State and the rest of our community can see that.”

Morelos has been working at the lab for three years and appreciates its hands-on learning process, and is constantly learning new techniques. 

The Meats Lab is open Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It offers 22 beef cuts, seven pork cuts, seven lamb cuts, seven different smoked sausages, seven cured meats, 10 fresh sausages and some jerky options. The lab can be contacted via Facebook, @chicostate_meatslab on Instagram and by phone at (530) 898-6028.

Shae Pastrana and Melvin Bui can be reached at [email protected] or @pineyfolk and @melvinbuii on Twitter.