Family owners of a local cattle farm had long considered moving beef sales to a direct-to-consumer model, and the COVID-19 pandemic was exactly the push they needed. When many meat processing plants temporarily closed in March 2020, several Williams Angus Beef cows were in an external feedlot ready to be sold and slaughtered, but suddenly they had zero. share where to go.
The family stood at risk of losing thousands of dollars and were left with the decision to euthanize their animals or find an alternative. Farm owner Jeff Williams looked at his daughters Maggie Davidson and JoBeth Evans and asked, “What are we doing to prevent this from happening?
At the same time, Davidson and Evans were receiving an overwhelming number of calls from neighbors worried about the meat shortage in grocery stores and rising meat prices. Families decided to start selling beef directly to customers both to provide for the community during a time of scarcity and to avoid “killing the animals for nothing,” Evans said.
The family discovered several advantages of selling their meat directly to consumers. Animals stay on their farm their entire lives until they’re ready to be processed, which means farmers are in total control of how their animals are treated, Evans said. They are also more in touch with what consumers want and more in control of what happens to their livestock.
“If something like this happens again, another pandemic or the economy goes down, we want to be in charge of what happens to our animals and not just take them to the barn on Wednesday and hope they are doing well,” Davidson said.
Four large companies that control about 80% of the domestic market’s beef supply – Tyson Foods, Cargill, National Beef and JBS. The control of the big beef companies over the industry can make it harder for the “little guys,” Davidson said.
When meat prices rise in grocery stores, large businesses, not local farmers, benefit from the increase. The consumer price index for beef increased 17.6% from September 2020 to September 2021, while the index for fish, poultry, meat and eggs as a whole increased by 10, 5%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Local meat processors have also felt the effects of the pandemic. Rick Rice, owner of Rice Custom Meat Processing in Rudy, Arkansas, said area meat processors were “bombarded” with demands for pork and beef processing at the start of the pandemic, and that the rush didn’t has not slowed down. His business is scheduled for a year and his employees average between 55 and 60 hours per week, he said.
Meat is not the only product whose price is affected by the financial pressure of the pandemic. The cost of paper and vacuum plastic products started to skyrocket in 2020 and haven’t gone down, Rice said. Paper and plastic costs tripled as shipping doubled, and Rice had to find a way to offset the increased packaging costs.
“It happens where we have to raise our prices, so that we can package it, sell it to consumers,” Rice said.
Evans and Davidson have had difficulty securing treatment appointments throughout the pandemic due to overwhelmed treatment factories, they said. The partnership with Key’s Family Butcher Shop was a major breakthrough for the farm, as it meant the family could sell beef by the pound to restaurants or schools in addition to selling directly to consumers.
Davidson believes the shutdown of major processing companies in the first few months of the pandemic and health mandates limiting staff at reopened facilities created a bottleneck, she said. This was a major factor in the rise in meat prices and hampered the ability of farmers to sell calves because no one was buying them.
“It takes 18 months for a steer to be ready for processing, so from the time your cow is bred, you have two years left to make changes to your herd,” Davidson said. “You can’t change that overnight, so when they stopped processing the farmers still had exactly the same number of cows they had the day before. “
Selling direct to consumers has prompted the Williams Angus Beef team to delve into the business aspects of farming, such as running a website, marketing and creating delivery schedules, Evans said. They are still in the early stages of the process, but farmers hope the transition will increase their business’s profits in the long run.
“We are trying to make it something that is sustainable for generations to come,” Evans said. “We want to get to where we can make it profitable enough to make it worth our children in the future.”