Steaks, roasts and carcasses are just some of the things the Echo High School FFA meat evaluations team will be rating and identifying next week during the national competition in Louisville, Ky.

The four-person team, composed of senior Cassie Wagner, senior Jacob Murstig, junior Elizabeth McCarty and now college freshman Eric Coffelt took first place in the state competition at Oregon State University in March . The team’s win at state qualified it for the national competition. The students left for nationals this morning and will start competing Wednesday.

To prepare for the competition, the team has practiced six days a week for the last several months identifying cuts of meat, rating carcasses, memorizing meat traits and more.

“It takes a lot of memorization,” Wagner said.

The team arrived at Follet’s Smoked Meat in Hermiston Friday morning for a last minute practice before heading to nationals.

They started by identifying various cuts of beef, which they were all able to do with relative ease.

Wagner said all cuts of meat have specific characteristics that make them easier to identify. She said a seven-bone roast, for example, is bright red in color and larger in size than most other cuts.

“There is nothing else that is that big,” she said. “It also has a bone that looks like a number seven. It is also over an inch thick.”

Wagner said the memorization of muscles, colors for specific meats and more are key in correctly identifying a piece of meat to place well in competition.

At the national competition, each team member will compete in several meat evaluation events, including a meat formulation problem-solving portion, identification of meat cuts, beef quality and yield grading and rating animal carcasses. They will also have take a written test, answer questions about animal carcasses and complete one of four possible team practicums.

Raymon Smith, Echo FFA meat evaluations adviser and district superintendent, said for the meat identification portion, students will have to identify 30 out of 270 different cuts of meat that will be displayed on tables at the competition.

“They just have to walk up on a cut and know what it is,” he said.

For the animal carcass event, Smith said the students will have to identify characteristics of each carcass and then rate each carcass.

Wagner said she prefers the individual events as opposed to the team portions because it is all her if she doesn’t do well.

“If I mess up, I can’t blame it on anyone else,” she said.

Wagner, Murstig and McCarty said they have only been part of the meat evaluations team for two years, and the FFA chapter, itself, has only been around in Echo for three years.

“That says a lot about the team because they are going up against teams who have been doing this for years and have never qualified for nationals,” Smith said.

Wagner said they all got interested in the meat evaluations competition because their families are all involved in the meat business.

“The easiest competition for us was to participate in the meat evaluation because we have all been around it,” she said.

McCarty and Murstig, who are also cousins, said their family owns Follet’s Smoked Meats. Their knowledge about specific cuts of meat or the characteristics for rating an animal carcass was never anywhere near where it is now, however, Murstig said.

Smith said he is really grateful to the three area meat companies that have allowed the team to come in and practice: Follett’s Smoked Meats, Eastern Oregon Mobile Slaughter and Mike’s Mobile Slaughter. He said the visits to those businesses have helped the teams win seven out of the last eight state championships.

“Pictures only go so far,”?he said. “Those three (businesses) really help build the programs around here.”

Smith said he, himself, got into the FFA meat evaluations competition because he worked in a meat lab when attending Colorado State University. When he first became a meat evaluations adviser as a student teacher, there were only seven or eight teams in the state that participated in that particular event. Now, he said, more than 30 teams compete. “It is a good way to teach kids about the industry and process, and it is a good way for me to stay connected with the classroom,” Smith said.

Smith said he works with both the students at Hermiston and Echo.

“They all do their best when they compete,” he said. “The worse a team has done (at nationals) is 12th place. The best was last year when Hermiston placed seventh.”

Smith said it is not like sports, where teams compete against schools similar in size. “We compete against lots of really good schools,” he said.

In particular, Smith said they compete against a couple of schools in Texas and California who have student populations of about 3,000, their own meat labs and more than seven agriculture teachers.

Wagner said because of FFA, she is thinking about a career involving meat evaluations somehow in the future.

Smith said regardless of whether the students choose a profession involving meat evaluations, he is glad they are at least becoming more informed customers.

“They will have a positive influence on ag(riculture), whether they are interested in it for a career or not,” he said.

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