June 14, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence
Harrodsburg, Ky.

It’s a state that is famous for tobacco, but now Kentucky is making a name for itself in beef. That trend was celebrated recently at Kentucky’s first Fort Harrod Beef Festival in Mercer County.

In Mercer County alone, tobacco production has significantly declined in recent years. Beef production has expanded to fill that void.

“With all of our forages, the hay that we have, the pasture that’s available, and of course our good land and soils we have here, beef has been a very natural source to help replace some of that lost income from tobacco,” said Tony Shirley, Mercer County agriculture and natural resources agent.

The trend toward beef production continues throughout the state. Kentucky boasts the largest inventory of beef cattle east of the Mississippi River. For that reason, festival coordinators not only wanted to celebrate beef in its many forms, but also to educate people on the importance of the cattle industry in Kentucky, said LeMayne Ellis, a Mercer county veterinarian who was co-chair of this year’s premiere event.

The three-day festival was a collaborative effort between Mercer County, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, and local businesses and residents.

“To me, it’s just a perfect example of how Extension should work,” Shirley said. “An idea was generated, we helped promote it, and now several aspects of the community have come together to put together this beef festival, which is kind of replacing the Pioneer Days that we had several years ago.”

The festival spilled across two venues, with events and exhibits at both Old Fort Harrod State Park and the Mercer County Fairgrounds. There was something for everyone, from an early morning Stampede and Cow Poke 5K run/walk, juried arts and crafts booths, an evening concert headlined by the Kentucky Headhunters, displays of cattle breeds and antique tractors and a 4-H/FFA livestock skillathon competition.

Professional and amateur chefs had the opportunity to participate in grill-offs, featuring burgers, steak and brisket. Even young chefs could show off their grilling skills in a hamburger grill-off that was judged by the superintendents of Mercer County, Burgin and Harrodsburg school districts.

Cattle weren’t the only livestock present. In the center ring, the Bluegrass Ranch Horse Association presented a series of competitions for novice and experienced riders. Riders and horses displayed the agility and skill required to round up stray cattle.

Of course, beef was plentiful. People lined up for an early steak and egg breakfast at Old Fort Harrod State Park. Over at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, vendors handed out bite-size samples, and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association cooked up steaks, burgers and all-beef hot dogs.

“We think this has potential for something that’s going to go every year,” Ellis said. “We’re real excited about it and we’re going to continue on and make it bigger and better every year.”  


Tony Shirley, 859-734-4378