We're as local as our beef.
In 1970 our family farm was established in Western Kentucky focusing primarily on corn, wheat, and soybean production with a small hog and cow/calf operation. Over the last four and a half decades the family farm has grown to produce 5 thousand acres of white corn, 5 thousand acres of soybeans, 4 thousand acres of soft red winter wheat and 250 brood cows.
In October 2013 during the middle of corn harvest we realized we were spending too much time and effort storing and shipping our white corn screenings (left over cracked corn) at an unwarranted discount along with handling and logistical inefficiencies to commercial feed suppliers. We thought about the absurdity of producing both calves and their feed and then shipping both to commercial feed lots out west. We knew immediately we needed to do something about it. We had the cattle. We had the feed. And we certainly had the passion. The only thing we lacked was the technology that would allow us to do it.
Why was no one doing it?
Ironically, Kentucky is one of the largest calf producing states east of the Mississippi, yet once the calves are weaned they are loaded on trucks and shipped west of the Mississippi to massive commercial feed lots with a dry climate where they are grain finished, slaughtered, and then packed up and shipped on a truck back to the east.
We discussed the potential of using our own corn screenings (a by product from our food-grade corn production) to produce locally grain finished beef. We decided if we were going to move forward we would do it the right way. This meant producing a product that would be genetically superior, with no added hormones/antibiotics, and would be managed the way we handle our own beef that we raise for our family consumption.
The turning point
We consulted with the University of Kentucky's Extension and Research Center to team with us on developing an environmentally-friendly approach for producing grain-finished beef. The climate in Kentucky is not conducive for grain finishing cattle in a conventional outside feed lot due to environmental issues with erosion, water contamination, and animal health.
The solution to sustainably producing local grain finished beef in Kentucky was actually simple - but expensive.
After researching the subject with experts in the field, we set out to construct a Compost Finishing Barn behind our grain storage facility - only 1.6 miles from the pastures. The compost barn keeps the cattle clean and dry at all times and utilizes the manure to produce a phenomenal organic fertilizer when mixed with sawdust as a bedding agent.
When the calves are 8-9 months of age they are placed on a high carbohydrate diet in our compost finishing barn for 6-9 months. We have been able to achieve the quality and production we set out to do - without adding hormones and antibiotics to our feed ration found in commercial feedlots.