It was a Church "meating" of a different sort Jan. 25 as President Thomas S. Monson and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin toured Church livestock operations here and in nearby Elberta.
The Brethren spent an hour going through the Deseret Meat packing plant in Spanish Fork, getting a firsthand look at the operation and greeting most of the 32 employees. They then traveled southwest to outlying Elberta, where employees and volunteers operate the feedlot that prepares cattle for the meat plant. Both operations rely on volunteer labor provided by surrounding stakes.President Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, is chairman of the Church Welfare Services Executive Committee. Elder Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve is a committee member, and also has extensive professional experience in the meat industry. Both have been involved, with the Presiding Bishopric and other members of the Welfare Services Committee, in advisory and supervisory roles in bringing the livestock operations to their current successful status.
Accompanying President Monson and Elder Wirthlin on the tour was Dennis R. Lifferth, Welfare Services director of production distribution. Pres. Randal B. Gibb of the Salem Utah Stake, agent stake for Deseret Meat, met the group in Spanish Fork. Pres. Kendell T. Ewell of the Santaquin Utah Stake, agent stake for the feedlot, met the group at Elberta.
Ron Dyer is general manager of the livestock operations, and Merrill Oram is meat plant operations manager.
President Monson and Elder Wirthlin had high praise for the management and crews at both places.
"On behalf of the Church leadership, I commend you," President Monson told the group at Deseret Meat. "I didn't see anyone not wanting to step forward and shake hands, and they all had a good spirit about them. I thank you with all my heart for your efforts."
President Monson visited with groups of employees during the tour of both facilities, before mounting a horse at the feedlot so yard manager Ray Hansen could take a picture to send to his missionary son, Jared, in California. Hansen asked the counselor in the First Presidency to sit atop the horse, which belongs to the missionary, so the young man would have a remembrance of the occasion. And in Spanish Fork, Pres. Gibb presented President Monson a copy of an oral history of Sister Gibb's grandfather, Benjamin Fullmer, that President Monson had recorded as a young bishop in the early 1950s. Brother Fullmer lived in the ward over which President Monson presided at the time.
"I think it's necessary for us to stand on the ground in our larger projects and to meet the operators and have a knowledge of their challenges and how they have been able to meet them," explained President Monson. "I'm much impressed with both the Spanish Fork plant and the feedlot. These men have qualified direction, and I know they're dedicated. I feel that's a reflection of leadership and people who recognize the need for good relationships between management and employees.
"I could sense that each person understands he is an integral part of the operation, and that the operation depends on his success. I think we must never forget that the prime and ultimate goal in all that's done here is to respond to the Lord's mandate to care for the poor and the needy, and to see that the widow and the orphans do not go without."
The livestock operations in Spanish Fork and Elberta play a key role in the Church welfare program, supplying meat to bishops storehouses, canneries, BYU and other Church institutions.
"It's thrilling to see the efficiency and modern operation that's come about through the fine leadership of these men," praised Elder Wirthlin. "Another thing that impresses me is the fine morale of our workers."
About 5,000 head of cattle and 7,000 hogs will be processed through the system during 1991, resulting in the production of 4.6 million pounds of beef and pork. Final products include ground beef, stew meat, roast, sausage, hot dogs and bologna. BYU and other institutions also receive specialty cuts to meet their unique needs.
A key to the success of the meat plant – in addition to a well-trained management and worker team, willing volunteer labor and state-of-the-art equipment – has been the feedlot operation.
"We have a very explicit nutritional program to minimize fat and maximize edible meat," explained Brother Dyer. "Plus, we have a good disease-prevention program of immunizations so we've had a very low death loss, below the industry norm. Other than that, we're not doing anything different than a progressive commercial feedlot would be doing in terms of animal care and preparation."
The feedlot capacity is about 4,000 head of cattle, relatively small compared to commercial lots in the region with capacities of 30,000 or more. But it's sufficient to meet the needs of the system.
"These are excellent facilities," noted Brother Lifferth. "The quality of meat is superb, and the operation is efficient. The workers are well trained and devoted to the mission of the Welfare program.
"And it should be noted that the quality of the meat depends on a large number of volunteers from outside the meat plant and feedlot. The ranches that produce the cattle and welfare farms that produce the feed play an important part. It really is a concerted effort from many people within the welfare system making it succeed."