Madewell Meats gets USDA label approval for their nitrate and MSG-free products “When we first got started in the meat business we could buy a hog at 6 or 7 cents a pound and that first year I hauled 23 head up to the stockyards. They averaged 256 pounds and they didn’t bring $25 a head,” explained Steve Madewell of Madewell Meats. Steve explained that the idea behind his pork business started when that same year he and his wife, Jane, “sold a few Christmas hams for $30 apiece. It just made sense,” recalled Steve.
It was difficult for Steve to find the right hog since the industry had developed a more modern hog that focused more on loin production rather than sides. After a lot of searching, Steve was able to bring in old bloodlines such as Viking from the late 1960s to early 1970s. With these lines, Steve was able to breed a much larger and less modern hog. Steve’s hogs today are deep-bodied and big-framed. “A couple of years ago I had a couple 9 and 10-year-old sows that averaged near 800 pounds. Hogs don’t get that big anymore. This is a grower’s only market and you have to sell what you grow,” Steve explained.
Currently, Steve keeps Duroc, Hampshire and Berkshire breeds on his 90-acre farm in Mt. Vernon, Mo. He has 25 working sows and 5 boars on the farm with several boars residing on other farms that he still retains half interest in. All of his hogs are free-range and kept outdoors. “It takes a lot more labor to raise hogs that way, but they are a lot healthier,” said Steve.
Steve does not use modern-day practices when it comes to production. “The larger pork producer will focus on pigs per sow, and our sows will only average about 2 litters per year,” explained Steve.
Steve is also proud to be able to say that he feeds a noncommercial feed that he grinds and mixes himself. He feeds a non GMO grain and uses no antibiotics, hormones or growth promotants.
Another important aspect of Madewell Meats is their ability to offer nitrite and MSG-free products. After discovering that some health issues of Jane’s were related to nitrites and MSG, Steve began to push the USDA to recognize their label with no nitrites, as it previously would not recognize any cured meats without nitrites in them. After some struggle, the USDA finally approved Steve’s label. He mentioned that he is currently working on a new kind of bacon; one that will be sold in its purest form. “We are still working on getting an approved label on it. We’ve tested it and people have really liked it,” mentioned Steve.
Steve and Jane currently run a mobile business, which consists of a 20-foot trailer, six freezers and a generator. On almost every day of the week you can find Steve at one of the local farmers’ markets. Three of those days he spends at the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market of which he is president. The mobile business took the place of their store they ran a few years ago in Mt. Vernon. When asked about the decision to close the store Steve stated, “I got an offer that was too good to pass up and it was time to slow down. There is much cheaper overhead and more flexibility with a business like this,” explained Steve.
In regards to competition Steve said, “We have never been a cutthroat business. We offer 53 or 54 products and people buy from me because it tastes like the meat they had when they were kids.”
Steve said the biggest challenge is the cost of feed. “We just got through the last two years with the highest corn and soybean prices I have ever paid. Your feed is three fourths what it cost on the hog. We are just at the mercy of the market,” Steve explained.
“I enjoy talking to the people that buy our products.” Yet, as much as he loves the hog business he knows farming will become more of a struggle as he ages. “With the way we do things there is so much physical stuff and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I can’t do what I could when I was 30. Well, actually I can still do them, it just takes longer,” Steve laughed. “To do what we do is very time consuming. It’s a year-round business; a lifestyle,” Steve concluded.


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