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Rodeo coach starts meat co-op

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HOTSPRINGS, S.D. — Dustin Luper is already well-known for his work with the Chadron State College Rodeo Team, but the coming months will see him providing another service to the area — meat processing. Luper said the rancher-owned facility is actually a co-operative under the name United Ranchers Co-Op, with the finished products known as Dakota Territory Beef.

United Ranchers is being constructed on 12 acres south of Fall River Feedyard in Hot Springs, S.D.

Luper explained there was a meeting of several ranchers in Hot Springs, back in 2019 before the pandemic happened. During the meeting, there was some discussion of how bigger facilities are “ram rodding and monopolizing the market.” While most were in agreement on this, many weren’t ready to put in the time and effort to research creating their own business.

Teaming up with Neal Sanders of Oral, S.D., the two started pioneering. After a few trials, they concluded they could sell 50 shares in the co-op for $25,000 each. That money allows the rancher to procure 25 animals.

“We’re going to kill only 25 animals a week for probably the first year and a half,” Luper said, “and then grow bigger.” He estimated about 25 of the shares are already sold.

He explained in the procurement process the rancher would own the animal until the time it’s slaughtered. There are some parameters, such as feeding at the Fall River Feedyard for a set number of days, to protect product quality. There will also be a procurement specialist coming in to ultrasound the cattle. Because they are going to be USDA inspected, the ultrasound provides a visual of where the cattle’s marbling is, Luper explained, which will help determine which animals are procured in a given week.

“It’s hard to tell when they’ve got their hide on,” Luper said with a laugh.

How the rancher gets paid is two-fold. First, they will get 12 cents over the national board price the week their animal is taken, about a $300 premium on a yearling. When the co-op is up and running strong, they’ll also get a dividend payment at the end of the year.

A board, which includes everyone who owns a share, will vote on what is done with any profits after that.

Luper pointed out that anyone can buy shares, and of the 25 already sold three are to people who don’t even own cattle but saw this as an investment. He further added such people can lease their shares to cattle owners if they choose, or find cattle at fair market value.

Dirt work is being done right now, with construction of the building expected to start in September or October.

As for the meat being processed, Luper said they already have a marketing person hired as part of the co-op and they plan to sell product at the facility. While the middle of the cow is easier to sell, as that’s where cuts like steaks and ribs are from, it’s harder to sell the hamburger and roasts. Because they are working to provide as healthy a beef as they can, Luper said the plan is to work with Chadron State College and area schools to provide meat for their lunch programs.

There’s also plans to do snack stick and sausage lines, for sale in stores. As for processing other types of meats, such as pork, Luper said there’s been some discussion but the plan is to stick to beef right now. He doesn’t expect the business to get much bigger than processing 250 head per week.

As for the rodeo team, Luper plans to coach through the fall but would take a step back into an assistant position. With his schedule filling up, he believes it would not be fair to the students, nor allow him to do as good a job as he knows he can.

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