Customized production

The cattle stay comfortable while waiting to move through the driving chute to harvest. Indoor pens provide cool air in the summer and help keep cattle warm in the winter with concrete walls and floors. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., designed the entire livestock handling area to minimize stress before slaughter. Access to clean water, specific air flow patterns to keep the sight and smell of slaughter away from cows, and room to rest and lay down all ensure a calm and mellow animal. The specially designed ridged floors prevent slipping and falling, and the crew rinses them between every load. Cattle follow a high-walled tunnel with a light at the end that attracts them. They lift their heads to the light and are stunned before they have the chance to panic or become stressed.

After shackling, workers remove the internal organs, head and hooves, and hide from the carcasses and processing begins with a bacteria wash and chill. After the chill, a shot of filtered air aids muscle separation and boning, a process Creekstone has used for a few years. Carcasses are graded and moved to cold storage.

Chuck, loin, ribs and round make up the four different lines on the fabrication floor. The plant stages carcasses by grade and need depending on the fabrication “recipe” for the day. Creekstone procures a specific amount of product per grade to fulfill orders. Carcass grades might change throughout the day, and Alphonso Terrezas, international sales and tour guide at Creekstone, says the line runs about half the speed of the industry standard. Customers willingly pay a premium for the “boutique” products Creekstone creates with its methods. The beef grades out at 22 percent Prime and 73 percent Choice compared to the industry average of 5 percent Prime and 66 percent Choice.

Douglas Mackay (left), general counsel and director of human resources; Mathew Trowbridge, director of operations; Ryan Meyer, director of cattle procurement; Jim Rogers, senior vice president of sales; Kaz Nomura, president and CEO.

The fabrication mix depends on the day’s orders and can be logistically challenging. Products are made-to-order. A scheduler takes the orders every day and creates the schedule. The fabrication management team meets in the morning with the schedule to make notes on anything that could cause a potential snag. Management notifies line supervisors before production begins to ensure the smoothest possible fabrication.

The complexity of this type of production requires a willingness to take on more difficult situations and a readiness to think and plan carefully. Monday and Tuesday shifts might include similar product mixes, but depending on a number of factors, they might not. And certain days of the week are reserved for specific products from different cattle. EU, NHTC, natural, etc., are all products that require different cattle for production, further complicating the staging and daily fabrication schedule.

“It’s nuts,” says Jim Rogers, senior vice president of sales. The logistics are complicated, but the flexibility pays off.

“It’s really a made-to-order product and all that costs money because it slows you down on the chain,” Meyer says. “It really is one of the attributes that we have though, customer service. If the customer wants six different types of ribeye on one load…”

“There you go. We’ll do it,” Rogers chimes in.

Meyer goes on to say, “And that’s one of the things we had to do as a small company to compete against the big ones was to be flexible. To be able to customize orders. We take pride in it, but it’s awfully hard on the people.”

“It’s hard on the production team to do that,” Rogers adds.

The executive team understands the toll the made-to-order production process takes on employees and they continue to enhance worker benefits and retention efforts with the same tenacity and creativity used to address the daily production mix.