For years, the Basingers of Pretty Prairie tended their crops and raised healthy cattle, then sold them wholesale.
A few years ago, the couple realized they had a commodity that consumers wanted – all natural, pasture-grazed beef.
They decided to start out small and take a few cows to slaughter and continue to sell the rest to feedlots.
Little by little, the business grew. Now, more than 25% of their profits come from their retail line of steaks, chopped meat, beef jerky and bundles.
“We wanted to have control of our whole system,” Chad Basinger said. “We only market a certain percentage. The ideal would be the whole thing.”
More ranchers are realizing they have a product that consumers want. They just have to figure out how to get their meat into the consumer’s hand.
Starting a Business
Cassondra Basinger was raised on a farm and has an accounting degree. She uses both her analytical and hands-on skills daily to help Basinger Land & Cattle grow.
“It’s kind of fun,” she said. “Customers are wanting to know where their meat is coming from.”
Bradon and Rachael Wiens of Meade, Kansas are in a similar boat. Rachael’s graphic design degree helps propel the couple’s ability to market and sell their full-blooded wagyu beef from their rural ranch, Wiens Wagyu.
“We’ve always liked the idea of selling to the end person,” Wiens said. “We enjoy that customer relationship.”
For those starting out with a ranch to table business, Frank Choriego, the associate director of Kansas SBDC at Wichita State University, said along with marketing on the internet, a business like this must become an LLC, purchase insurance, register with the Kansas Department of Commerce, collect and pay sales tax.
“(They should) work with their local SBDC, economic development agency or chamber of commerce for developing strategies,” Choriego said.
In addition, they need to develop a brand and a label.
“It’s a ‘be known’ game,” Choriego said. “Get yourself known.”
But they must also understand their capacity and make sure the business can grow with demand, he warned.
“I suggest a bundle,” Choriego said. “I wouldn’t go over $200.”
Jacob Knobloch, who runs Rock Ridge Farms in Gridley, Kansas, recently started raising hogs on his no-till, cover crop operation.
Six weeks ago, he sold his first bacon, pork chops, sausage and sides.
“We’re starting to get our feet wet,” he said. “The problem is finding enough locker space to have my animals harvested.”
Knobloch, said he is learning how to spread out his supply and keep up with demand.
“We had really good response when we started slaughtering,” he said. “People are calling back and asking for more.”
Where to Slaughter
Both the Basingers and the Wiens take their animals to slaughter at Krehbiels Specialty Meats in McPherson. Knobloch travels to Woodson County Prime Meat Processing in Yates Center.
Both these slaughterhouses offer USDA federal inspection. This means meat slaughtered at there may be sold both in Kansas and across state lines. This costs $25 extra per animal.
If a rancher only wants to sell in Kansas, he/she can go to a state-inspected slaughterhouse.
Jennifer Hood, the plant manager at Woodson said there is a lot of extra paperwork involved with USDA federally inspected meat, but she admitted, she likes the detail.
Hood said more and more ranchers are having their animals butchered and then selling it to the consumer.
“It just keeps growing and growing,” she said. “This past year, it’s increased by about 25%.”
Hood said Woodson is considering expanding to a second shift, but finding skilled workers is difficult.
“It used to be a one month wait (to have an animal butchered),” she said, “Now, it’s almost three months.”
The Basingers, Knoblochs and Wiens are excited to offer this farm to table option.
“The satisfaction of growing a good high quality product and selling it directly to the consumer is what we are after,” Knobloch said.
The animals graze on crops and grass pastures at each farm.
“They say if we can change our soil, we can change our nutrition and taste,” Cassondra Basinger said. “Taste sells. Once they taste it, they’re more likely to buy it.”
The Basingers are hoping to invest in sheep and chickens.
All three couples have young children and a lot of energy. Each farmer has a story to tell and a love of the land and their animals.
“Coming outside everyday isn’t a job; it’s our passion,” Chad Basinger said. “It’s what we live and breathe for.”