By: Connie Sieh Groop, The American News
That's the mantra of those working, step by step, to get the cattle moving through the beef slaughter facility on the south side of Aberdeen, S.D.
As employees are hired, permits completed and equipment put in place, the details are coming together to process cattle at New Angus Beef LLC. Separating themselves from the mainstream packers includes processing cattle using religious protocols for kosher and halal markets.
"We need to add value to separate ourselves from the big guys," R. Doug Cooper, CEO of New Angus Beef, told The American News. "We plan to do the religious harvest simultaneously, with USDA and rabbinical inspectors overseeing the process."
"This plant has made an investment to do religious harvest," Cooper said. "We plan to do that in a world-class environment with concern for animal welfare. We have experience with similar customers. We believe it is very complimentary to what we are doing. We have invested the capital and tools to do it right."
Cooper cited a global and international demand for this growing market.
The terms kosher and halal refer to the Jewish and Muslim faiths, which have specific rituals that need to be followed when animals are slaughtered and processed. These rules are prescribed by the dietary laws of their religion.
Once the kosher meat is processed, the raw meat will be boxed to leave the plant. According to the religious protocols, the meat cannot be frozen until it is soaked and salted, and that must be done within 72 hours.
Cooper said it is much like a natural beef program, and those at the plant believe the process will be seamless.
New Angus officials said an opening date this month depends on finding and training qualified workers for the plant.
As of Oct. 21, the company had 122 employees, with a fourth orientation planned Oct. 23.
"A year from now, we hope to have 500 (employees) and to reach a steady processing of 1,500 animals each day," Cooper said. He said the plant is not expecting to hit full capacity this year.
Cooper said the company has had more than 300 applicants for positions so far. A surprising number of those hired have been from Aberdeen and others have come from Michigan, Utah, Missouri, Nebraska and Minnesota, he said.
Cooper said the opportunity to work at the new plant draws many interested people for interviews. He credits the Aberdeen community, but also said the community sells itself and draws in quality people.
"We feel very much accepted in Aberdeen," he said. "We need to get the quality skilled labor. We also are looking to keep them. People are going to make this work."
Within the 400,000-square-foot physical structure, there are miles of wires, belts and conveyors. Keith DeHaan, executive chairman of New Angus, said they plan to take their time training employees to get everything right.
"It takes time," DeHaan said. "We're teaching 'Meat Science 101' inside this beautiful plant. During the training, we walk the employees through the fabrication and deboning process and make sure they understand why it's done that way."
Contacts have been made with producers to provide a steady stream of animals from a 250-miles radius once the plant is ready for them. Right now, many of the animals are on trucks that go right by Aberdeen on their way to other packing facilities.
Cooper said that New Angus LLC was granted a U.S. Department of Agriculture conditional inspection permit (No. 45471) on Oct. 15. Under this, the USDA will begin a 90-day evaluation of the processes, people, and tools at the facility. Without this permit, the plant would only be able to sell products locally.
On Sept. 29, the company registered the trade name DemKota Ranch Beef for products. New Angus products will be labeled, packed and marketed as DemKota Ranch Beef, Cooper said. The plant name, however, will not change, he said.
Peggi Badten, supervisor of Aberdeen's water reclamation plant, said in a phone call Oct. 22 that paperwork has been filed for the wastewater discharge permit for the beef plant. She said it is a fairly comprehensive document that is under review.
With permits in place, DeHaan said New Angus has anchor customers waiting for the company to provide product to them. Distribution channels are being developed, both nationally and internationally.
Officials believe that processing the offal for a niche market in other countries will help them meet their bottom line. This could be as much as 8 to 10 percent of the production. With the thin profit margin in the business, it can make the difference between sinking and swimming, DeHaan said.
"This is a very methodical business, a well-capitalized business," Cooper emphasized. "We know the cattle are here. We can't emphasize enough our desire to be part of the community and to be a leading business citizen."