Local Butcher: Nate’s Custom Butchering
Our Favorite Local Butcher
On a blustery, cold, April morning, I arrive at Nate’s Custom Farm Butchering. I wanted to get to know more about Nate, our favorite local butcher and his wife Stefani. As I arrive, Nate and his dedicated employee, Austin are already up and at ’em. They were cutting beef for a local, grass-fed producer. The guys stay in constant motion as we begin shooting the bull. Nate who is an avid hunter, quickly saw the potential for himself to make a career out of something he truly enjoyed. He started spending summers in Alaska working on a fishing boat at the age of 15. He moved there when he was 17, and that is where he first started learning to butcher. When he turned 18 he could begin officially cutting meat. Austin, his right-hand man couldn’t escape the trade as a third-generation butcher himself.
Over the sound of the saw I hear a pickup pull in. Stefani is driving in after making her morning loop, dropping off kids at multiple schools around the valley. She doesn’t miss a beat, she greets everyone as she steps into her work station and gets to work. She pulls out a section of butcher paper and plastic to begin wrapping meat. Once she empties the tray, she stamps all of the packages with their appropriate cut and begins again with a new tray and cut of beef.
How They Got Started
Stefani also stays in constant motion while we talk all things mom life. Our previous conversations over the phone and via text had been pretty down to business, so I really enjoyed having the chance to get to know her more in person. I learned more about her and Nate’s past, how they got started. They worked together nearly ten years ago at a local grocery store in the meat department.
Stefani originally started working serving ice cream in the ice cream shop at the front of the store where Nate happened to be in the meat department. Serving ice cream was the only position she was old enough to do at the time. After graduating high school she applied for a full-time position to begin saving money and was placed as the Courtesy Clerk. When she turned 18 her boss called her up to the office and asked her to have a seat. As she looked around the room she noticed the owners, managers and the head meat cutter were in attendance too. They wanted to offer her a position in the meat department, which she was thrilled to accept.
At the time, she didn’t realize how many people she would later upset by taking the job. There were employees nearly twice her age that wanted to move to the meat department, and they were not going to congratulate Stefani when she was the one offered the job. It was a sought out position at the time because it paid the most besides becoming a manager. Sherm’s Food 4 Less does a lot to support the community of the Rogue Valley. They are a huge supporter of our Junior Livestock Auction. Stefani made a point to mention how well they always treated her and all of their employees.
Taking the Leap
After working a 12 year stint for Sherm’s, Nate eventually made his way over to Southern Oregon Fine Meats, another local butcher shop. His boss, Robert gave him the opportunity to run the slaughter truck more independently. In January of 2018 a local butcher truck was for sale and Nate felt like it was the right time for him to take the leap. Nate’s Custom Farm Butchering, LLC. was started by strictly killing for local butchers and delivering carcasses to their meat shop.
Taking the leap meant that he would still remain working full-time at a local butcher shop meanwhile running his own kill truck. As we were talking, Stefani chimed in that at the time she was a stay at home mom now chasing two littles around. “We never really saw him,” she said.
He eventually built his customer base enough that he was able to put in his notice at Southern Oregon Fine Meats and begin working full-time for himself.
To this day, Nate loves getting to be outside for a majority of his work week. He brags about his consistently beautiful “office view” by shooting a text with a picture to Stefani on the regular. He travels to ranches and properties all over the county to kill butcher animals for families who are stocking their own freezer or supplying custom exempt protein to local families.
When asked what their favorite part of the business is, Stefani shares how nice it is to be able to make their own schedule and the people in the community they’ve been able to meet and get to know. Having a skill that allows us to help farmers and ranchers provide high-quality protein to local families is a special feeling.
Local Butcher Business Boom
Over the past two years the custom exempt business has exploded. After consumers saw empty meat department shelves, they quickly sought out a solution by buying beef direct from a local rancher. At the time, Nate was still working part time helping another local butcher cut meat as he worked on his own shop. Typically, January to May is a lot slower for local butchers. Stefani kept taking calls though and scheduling kill dates to the point where Nate could no longer help cut meat. When 2020 hit, families quickly learned that you could not call 30 days prior to needing an animal butchered, but rather six months. “The phone just kept ringing,” Stefani said smiling.
Opportunity to Expand
Cooler space is at a premium here locally. Nate and Stefani knew that the time was now to grow their business. In the Fall of 2021, they opened their own cut and wrap shop and put in their own cooler space. This expansion allowed Nate to continue killing for local butchers, and also cut and wrap for himself. As I sit with them in the Spring of 2022, they are planning for their second expansion with demand holding strong.
Currently, there is a grant through USDA to expand state inspected processing facilities within our state. As soon as they heard of the opportunity, Stefani jumped on it being the first to submit an application. There hope is to purchase a piece of property and build a new facility on ground that they own. Personally, I have my fingers and toes crossed for them. There is nothing better than seeing passionate young people that are eager to work, have doors open like that. They should hear back within May of 2022.
The Schedule of a Local Butcher
Today, Nate spends two days a week killing butcher animals for local butchers all around the valley. Opening their cut and wrap shop allowed him to scale back from killing five to seven days a week. Now he is able to spend the rest of his week slaughtering for himself and cutting meat. If they get a bigger cooler, they will be looking to pass their kill clients on to someone else. They’d like to move towards just butchering what they cut and wrap.
Biggest Challenge as a Local Butcher
Before I could get the question out, Stefani says confidently, “Well, finding someone to work, for sure.” They now could use an extra hand. They have reached out to people that they think would be interested, but they never show up or they don’t call back. “It is just weird,” she said. At this time, Nate, Austin, and Stef divide the workload of day to day operations.
When talking to Nate about the challenge of finding someone, he attributes it to two things. One, it is certainly manual labor, and two, it has a lower entry wage than many trades. Many young butchers enter the trade earning around $20 an hour. Nate said, “If the right guy stuck with it, there’s no reason why he couldn’t earn between $30-$40 an hour.”
Nate and Stefani both recognize the challenge they constantly face juggling home life and the business. They intentionally plan time to get away, go hunting, and spend quality time with their kids. Having the meat shop be just a few yards from their home presents its own challenges as they are consistently available for customers to pick up meat. They truly enjoy what they do though. It radiates from them on a cold Monday morning in April or when they roll in at 7:30p.m. to their last butcher appointment on a Tuesday night.
Loyal Customers Mean the World
Nate and Stefani talk often about what an amazing clientele they have. Ranchers and people that want to use them, they are loyal. “It is nice to know that people are happy to use us,” Stefani said. When calling for beef butchering instructions or helping customers when they come pick up their meat, the highlight of the day is often an hour long conversation with a customer. Many people are amazed by the customer service they receive when they go through Nate’s Custom Farm Butchering. They call you. They also return calls in a timely manner, and you can be confident the job will get done correctly. “People are really shocked when I call them back, often,” Stefani said. “They continuously thank me for answering my phone or returning a call.”
As a customer, I can definitely attest to the lack of customer service in our world today. It is a breath of fresh air to experience the follow-through of the good ol’ days.