March 3, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman
SPRINGFIELD, Ky.

Among the rolling fields of Washington County, a small group of cattle producers is retaining ownership of their product from birth until it reaches the consumer. Additionally, the group is producing cattle that are antibiotic and hormone free.

Kentucky Homegrown Beef already provides meat for the Dominicans of St. Catherine and St. Catherine’s College and is expanding into restaurants and other markets in the Louisville area, said Danny Spalding, manager of St. Catherine Farm. They are beginning to market their product into the Louisville area using Kentucky Heritage Meats owned by John Medley, a Springfield hog producer who is already providing pork for these markets.

One difference between the group of five cattle producers in Washington County and other producers is that they raise the cattle on their local farm from birth, through the feedlot, to the processing plant. Another difference is the decision not to use growth hormones or antibiotics. The beef is processed at a Casey Countyfacility.

“When I first started here, the sisters wanted to do hormone and antibiotic free beef and we’ve been doing it for about 14 to 15 years,” Spalding said.

Spalding said he believes there is a demand for this type of beef, and the retained ownership also is important both to the producer and consumer. For producers, it gives them control through the end and adds value to their product. For consumers, they have the knowledge of where and how their beef was produced.

In 2003, Spalding needed more beef to meet the demand for his existing customers so he worked with Rick Greenwell, Washington County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for the Universityof Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service . With Greenwell’s assistance, Spalding added four farms totaling about 325 head of cattle and formed Kentucky Homegrown Beef. Their goal is to consistently produce U.S. Department of Agriculture Choice grade beef.

“We are hoping to add on more farmers,” he said. “We are hoping to make it a community effort.”

Freezer space has been constructed at St. Catherine farm to provide storage for their product.

The UK College of Agriculture has played an integral part in the process at St. Catherine Farm, Spalding said.  Beef production specialists began working with them on feeding programs about seven to eight years ago. Then, Spalding said he began working with Benjy Mikel , UK Extension meats specialist, on meat cuts and meets with him several times a year.

Retaining ownership on beef is one way farmers can make up some lost tobacco income, but to do that they have to plan for a specific market, Greenwell said. They need to know the market they are producing for and have the genetics to produce the cattle for that market. They have to evaluate forages and feeds.

 “It gets to be pretty scientific,” he said. “Retained ownership causes them to have to raise the bar as far as educational levels and things they need to know and that’s where the College of Agriculture is working to assist them.”

Kentucky Homegrown Beef is just one project for which beef producers are using tobacco settlement money in Washington County as they look to improve their operations to replace lost tobacco income, Greenwell said.  

“We are trying to offer them a buffet of things,” he said. “It used to be you just took your cattle to the stockyards but that’s not good enough anymore. You’ve got to have a niche. You’ve really got to think outside the box and get in there and hustle around if you want to stay in farming today.”

The team effort such as that of Kentucky Homegrown Beef also is a key to being successful today, Greenwell said.

“You’ve got to form alliances, cooperatives, partnerships,” he said. “It’s hard to make it by yourself anymore. There’s such an advantage of buying together and selling together that people need to take a serious look at it.”

Contact: 

Source: Rick Greenwell, 859-336-7741