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Small Cattle Operation Does Its Own Processing
Kim and Steve Wells sell their beef direct to the consumer and control the meat every step of the way. They even purchased their own processing facility. They did it the hard way, without the backing of a banker.
“We had to sell about half of our 80-cow herd and some land to buy the facility,” says Kim. “We needed to do something. Several processors had gone out of business and the others were pushing out quarters of beef for large operators. There was no access for smaller operators like us.”
Concerned about the grain market in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s, Kim and Steve researched options. With pastures that had been organic for decades, they decided to start selling beef direct to consumers. It just required a little fine tuning of their operation to produce a high-quality product that would appeal to consumers.
“Our banker laughed at us when I told him what we were going to do, but the rewards have been unlimited,” says Kim. “By 2003, we had switched most of our row crop land over to pasture. We were the largest 100 percent grass fed, organic beef producer in the state.”
They break their cattle herd into groups, each with its own herd bull and about 6 acres of grazing per animal. Farm ponds were developed to provide the water. Silt carried into the ponds provides water soluble minerals. Other inputs, aside from reseeding pastures with grass and legume seeds, are minimal.
“We supply them with free choice salt and diatomaceous earth, which provides some trace minerals, but also controls worms,” says Kim. “The diatomaceous earth moves through with the manure and controls fly larvae as they hatch. We also use it in a dust bag to powder their heads. We haven’t seen a vet in 8 years, and our meat is phenomenal.”
Bulls stay with the herds year-round. As a result, calves are produced year-round and provide a constantly refreshed meat supply. Young bulls are processed into steaks, roasts and ground beef, while heifers rebuild the cattle herd.
Kim had driven by Barnard Processing for years as she took the family’s beef to a Kansas City farmers market. The idea of doing their own processing was something they had been considering for at least 15 years.
Kim and Steve needed dependable processing. They had already transitioned from selling 800 to 1,000 lbs. of beef every Saturday to a store front of their own. When it opened in December of 2016, her farmers market customers followed.
“It went great until COVID hit and the city did street work that made it difficult to reach us,” she says. “By May we had to close.”
By the time they closed the store, they had already made the move to buy and renovate the processing facility. “It sat empty for 2 years before we were able to buy it,” says Kim. “USDA inspection wasn’t easy to get, but the inspectors were great to work with, very helpful and patient.”
They opened the processing operation in August of 2020. “We started out doing one animal every other day,” says Kim. “Now we are up to 3 beef and a couple hogs a day.”
In addition to herself and Steve, 2 of their children also work at Barnard Processing, as do several former employees of the facility.
“We run it ourselves, thanks to some experienced butchers who came in to give us lessons,” says Kim. “The need for a facility like this was big before COVID. It’s even bigger now.”
As fast as one challenge is met, the Wells family takes on another one. While the Barnard plant was just getting going, they partnered with friends to open Wells Locally Sourced Meats, a new store in Kansas City, Kan., this past December. Wells supplies the beef and pork, while partners Deborah Borel and her daughter Claire Walker run the shop. Borel and Walker also supply fresh produce, canned goods, and culinary items from their 6-acre farm, as well as store-made ice cream, deli items and lunch specials.
The Wells family is already looking ahead to new challenges. Plans are underway to open a store front at the Barnard plant.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Wells Family Farms Grass-Fed Beef, 4009 State Highway UU, King City, Mo. 64463 (ph 660 783-2930;
Info@wellsfamilyfarms.com; www.wellsfamilyfarms.com).

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #5