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Two North Dakota ranchers have goals of selling meat that is a cut above

Thomas Solwey owns Custom Kut Meat, a processing plant with a store front in Carrington, North Dakota, and Tanner Elshaug is owner of Grand Harbor Meats, a shop in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Meat in packages is in a freezer.
Custom Kut Meat in Carrington, North Dakota, sells a variety of cuts of beef.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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Like a growing number of ranchers, Thomas Solwey and Tanner Elshaug wanted to cut out the middle man by marketing meat directly to customers.

The two North Dakota men, who have two separate businesses about 60 miles apart — Solwey in Carrington and Elshaug in Devils Lake — founded their companies in 2021.

Solwey owns Custom Kut Meat, a processing plant with a store front in Carrington, and Elshaug is owner of Grand Harbor Meats, a shop in Devils Lake.

Both men sell cuts of beef from cattle they raised on their respective ranches. Solwey processes the cattle he and his brother, Ed Solwey, raise on their ranch north of Carrington and sell it in a shop connected to the 40 feet by 84 feet processing plant. Custom Kut Meat also, as the name implies, processes meat for ranchers who keep the cuts for their own use.

Elshaug hauls cattle from his ranch in Grand Harbor Township near Devils Lake to Bowdon (North Dakota) Meat Processing, where they’re processed, then sells the meat in a shop in Devils Lake.

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Solwey and his brother, Ed, learned to butcher meat when he was growing up on the farm.

“My parents each had nine siblings and they butchered twice a year,“ Thomas Solwey said.

The Solwey brothers continued the tradition when they became adults.

“We had a little meat shop down at the farm," he said. The two decided to go into the business, commercially, as demand grew.

“We thought the need for it was out there,” Solwey said. “We kind of toyed with the idea for years. We decided 'What the heck, let’s throw our hat in the ring.'"

They opened Custom Kut Meat in April 2022.

“We’re a family-owned operation,” Solwey said. “We built it from the ground up.” Besides his brother, his daughter Kylie works full-time in the shop and daughter Katelyn works part-time during the summer.

Custom Kut Meat has done both “custom exempt” and processing under inspection for North Dakota ranchers from across North Dakota, including Fargo, Fort Ransom and Minot, averaging seven or eight animals per week. Ranchers who have their meat processed at a custom exempt plant keep the meat and don’t sell it. The ranchers Custom Kut Meat does inspected processing for are selling it farm-to-table.

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Custom Kut Meat is booked for processing until 2023.

Solwey also processes USDA inspected beef, selling that and the home-raised beef in his shop connected to the processing plant. Eventually, he wants to increase the amount of his and Ed Solwey’s ranch-raised beef sold in the shop.

"Cuts such as ribeyes, strip steaks and sirloin steaks are popular sellers,” Solwey said. He also sells hamburger, smoked sausage and a variety of cheese in his shop.

“We’re building a clientele. We get a lot of positive feedback," he said.

Finding workers for the processing plant , though, is a challenge.

“That is always a problem. We’ve had a lot of issues with getting applicants,” Solwey said. “We’re probably down two people right now.”

Hiring employees also is challenging for Elshaug.

“Finding help is hard,” he said.

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A man dressed in a blue t-shirt and blue jeans and a woman dressed  in a gray t-shirt ad blue jeans sit behind a desk.
Tanner Elshaug, with help from his fiance Niki Kolberg, operates Grand Harbor Meats in Devils Lake, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Elshaug, who has a cow-calf herd of about 500 pairs and also finishes cattle in the winter, started Grand Harbor Meats to add value and further diversify his farm-ranch operation, which also includes growing wheat, barley, corn, soybeans and pinto beans.

Locally raised beef also is a big selling point for Grand Harbor Meats customers. Before Elshaug opened his shop, he figured he would haul a couple of his animals a month to the Bowdon Meat Processing. Instead, the plant is processing eight of his cattle each week to keep up with Grand Harbor Meats’ demand.

Between late August and Christmas, Grand Harbor Meats has meat orders that will require the processing of 70 head of cattle.

Customers come from as far as Minot — 120 miles west of Devils Lake — to buy meat at the shop. He sells cuts including ribeye, t-bone and porterhouse steaks that are processed from his grain- or grass-finished 18-month-old Angus cattle in packages in the shop and also beef in whole and half sizes.

Meanwhile, he sells bison and pork from animals that that he has raised.

“It’s been busy,” Elshaug said. "It’s been a challenge, but good at the same time.”

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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