Updated: Sep 12, 2019
If you’ve ever had a Spicy Fat Cat at a UK sporting event, you unknowingly benefitted from a little-known feature of the University of Kentucky campus: the butcher shop, or “boutique,” as it is called, since it is only open part time.
Located in the basement of the Garrigus building in the College of Agriculture, the six-year-old shop sells fresh beef, pork and lamb from the UK farms in Woodford County and the Research and Education Center at Princeton to the Lexington community. The animals are brought in from these locations and killed on-site under full USDA supervision. All proceeds from the shop go back into research for the college of agriculture.
Shop manager Brock Billingsley, who graduated from UK in 2015 with a degree in community leadership and development and started working at the butcher shop in April 2017, said great emphasis is placed on making sure the animals feel no pain. They also work to ensure the animals don’t experience discomfort while they wait, doing so by keeping a rough floor so the livestock cannot slip and hurt themselves.
Billingsley said the care for animals begins at the UK farms, where the animals are raised and fed based on the research done in the shop. However, department head Dr. Richard Coffey did not respond to any communication efforts from KRNL or requests to visit the farm.
There are no preservatives added to the meat the shop sells, and there is no waste, according to Billingsley. After the meat is separated, he said they sell the hides for leather and sell other excess for cosmetic products.
“What our goal is is to teach,” Billingsley said. “We’re not just teaching kids, we’re teaching people across the state, across the nation who come here for workshops over the summer, cattleman’s meetings.”
He said he loves that it’s not a “full-blown profitable business,” and he has always loved both teaching and meat science.
“This is kind of a mix between my passion for teaching people who want to learn as well as meat science and doing a little manual labor and working with animals,” he said. “So, it’s a perfect combination for what I want to do. That’s a true blessing for me to be able to blend all that. A lot of people can’t say that about what they do. So I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
Billingsley has the help of a team of four students, and he said managing them is his favorite part of the job. Together, they research better ways to feed animals and to cook meat. The small boutique is only a small part of their work. Behind the scenes, there are classes and classrooms, research kitchens, a kill floor on sight where student workers help slaughter the animals, and freezers where they are able to dry age the meat for up to two weeks, unlike the 72-hour wet aging process that companies like Tyson implement, according to Billingsley. This practice in particular, Billingsley said, provides a better quality of meat for the shop than the average package you can buy in chain stores.
The team that works with Billingsley includes agriculture economics senior Emma Shelton, who in January was awarded UK student employee of the year; Luke Wilson, a senior who is studying individualized curriculum in agriculture with a focus on plant soil science and agriculture economy; animal science senior Emma Horney; and Justin Smith, a sophomore studying agricultural education.
Shelton began working for the shop in 2017 and runs it’s social media. She said she puts focus on being engaging with her audience, which primarily consists of Lexingtonians as well as nurses and doctors from the nearby hospitals. Her active posts about the shop boosted the online followers and created a more engaged community.
“I really enjoy getting to engage with the public like that,” Shelton said. “Getting to provide them something that brings so much enjoyment and so much happiness in their lives.”
Wilson’s background includes being raised on a farm near Owensboro, so when he came to work in the butcher shop in January 2018, he already had experience.
“I just kinda jumped in feet first,” he said.
He interacts with customers in the shop, but mostly works in the processing room and the kill floor.
“I don’t see any more honorable stuff than providing food to people on earth,” he said, adding that he enjoys “providing a service to the community” and the learning experience it brings him as a student.
Horney works with the USDA inspectors and with the final paperwork before the meat goes into the freezers. She said through working in the role, she has discovered that she wants to work as an inspector when she graduates from UK. She also said that her time behind the scenes in the shop has given her more experience with the meat side of the industry.
Horney grew up in 4H and FFA.
“So I understood the growing and selling the animal process,” she said, but now she feels she has a better understanding of “both sides of an animal’s life.”
Smith started working in the shop in January 2019 and said the class associated with the shop, Animal Science 300, was what originally sparked his interest in working with the shop. He said he knew some of the other student workers before coming to work in the shop, so he felt it was an easy transition. He hopes to someday be a high school agricultural teacher, and he said his time in the shop will help him toward that goal.
“The experience I’m getting down here with meat science and food science is unmatched anywhere else, in my opinion,” he said.
The shop is open to the public Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., and the workers hope in the future that more UK students will come there for their meat supply.
Photos by Arden Barnes
Story Written by Sarah Ladd