The Thornburgs source farm-fresh products for their growing customer base
JOPLIN, MO. – About eight years ago, Dan and Kelli Thornburg and their children moved from Indiana to Southwest Missouri to continue their work in youth ministry. After three years, they decided to push forward toward something different and started selling beef. Dan’s grandfather was a dairy farmer with three farms in Indiana, so Dan said that is where he got his feet wet in agriculture.
“We started out just raising beef to supply our own freezer and decided it was just as easy to raise a few more to sell,” Dan said.
They leased about 30 acres in a partnership south of Seneca, Mo., and started running 40 commercial black Angus. Dan had learned about the benefits of rotational grazing through Joel Salatin’s work, and it inspired him to incorporate it with his cattle as he was doing a small farm-to-fork program.
“When I first started, I had a lot of guys tell me I was nuts because we are in the heart of beef country. They said you are going to be selling to guys that raise their own beef. We get a lot of people who don’t know about raising animals and so they get that hobby farm kind of experience out here.”
Five years ago, Dan and Kelli leased more property south of Joplin, Mo., and opened their meat store K&D Cattle Company.
“We opened up with just beef and realized real quick you have to diversify,” Dan said. “Within a month we added pork then processed chicken.”
They offer individual cuts, quarters, half and whole processed beef and pork.
“People would comment on the fact that this is how grandpa and grandma did it. Pasture-raised beef just tastes different than feed lot cattle. We really strive for the grass fed and grass finished, which is much leaner meat. The fat even tastes different on grass-finished beef than what it does grain. The grass-fed is one thing but the finished process is where the difference really comes in at.”
The first year, they ran about 35 butchered beef through their store, using local processors.
“We slowly started adding things and I started looking for produce. People were wanting garden grown vegetables and I started buying straight from Amish groups,” Dan said. “We sell 10 different varieties of Amish-made cheeses from Ohio.” The biggest sellers are habanero, smokey cheddar and horseradish cheese.
They are also a delivery location for locally-sourced Jersey milk, and sell jar goods such as fruits, jams and jellies, pie fillings, relish, pickles and have fresh produce. They also offer garden plants, flowers, flowered hanging baskets, mums, and have brought in local honey.
In addition to plate-and freezer-ready foods, K&D Cattle Company also sell laying hens. Dan said they have moved around 8,000 laying hens this year.
“We bring in just about whatever we can find local and offer it to the public,” Dan said. “As far as I am aware, we are the only place still offering as much local farm-to-fork products as we do.
“Last year, we ran 500 head of live hogs and roughly 75 head of live beef that we sold at the store, but with all the processors being booked up, we are seeing that number decrease drastically this year.”
The Thornburgs are expanding in other ways as well.
“In 2020, we planted 2,100 pumpkin plants and are looking to plant 6,000 this year. Fall has probably become our most profitable time of year now. Going into winter, that is what carries our overhead,” Dan said.
Over the course of the last year, they have tried to adapt just to get through.
“The beef market has really saturated in the last five years, but this last year, a lot of people started realizing that they need to know how to grow their own products and raise their own stuff.”
“One thing that really amazes people is how much our three kids do. Natalie (14) runs the store for us, and our twin boys Andrew (11) and Anthony (11) focus on chores and maintenance with me. They are homeschooled so when they are not working, they are doing schoolwork,” Dan said. “My wife Kelli works in town but comes out afterwards and closes up the store as well as works here every weekend. Without the help of the family and friends, it’s not possible for the business to have grown the way it has. Two to three times a week I have to be on the road almost all-day bringing product in.”
They recently added a sunflower patch where customers can come pick large and small sunflowers. In the fal, from mid-September until October, they offer a petting zoo. Corn stocks, square straw bales, hay in square and round bales, mums and pumpkins are also available for purchase. This year they are excited to offer horse cart rides.
“The community feedback is what has really kept us going. We have a lot of loyal customers that are thankful they don’t have to go into town for meat when we are fully stocked. We pull customers from the four-state area and pride ourselves on the fact that we look for the best quality farm-raised products that we can offer to the community.”