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Business & Economics

Direct marketing to consumers allows livestock producers to get a fair price

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Courtesy photo (left)
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SDPB (right)
Wessington Springs cattle producer Scott Kolousek and his wife, Amber began selling some of their beef direct to consumers in 2020.

Most livestock raised for meat consumption in South Dakota are not marketed direct to consumers. As recent as 2020 some 2.1 million-head of cattle and 7.8 million hogs are sold on contract or through an auction market to large processors.

Processors then harvest the animals and market their meat wholesale to retailers like grocery stores and restaurants.

Although this is how most South Dakota livestock are marketed, a growing number of the farmers and ranchers who raise them, are cutting out the middleman.

With the aid of word-of-mouth marketing and local meat processing plants, livestock producers are selling meat direct to consumers.

January 2020 Scott Kolousek delivered his 800-pound steers to the local livestock auction market. He then watched as group after group of cattle entered the auction ring and sold for hundreds under what it cost him and other farmers to feed and care for their cattle.

The day he lost $100 per head was the day the fifth-generation Wessington Springs cattle producer and his wife, Amber, decided to take back some control over what they receive for the livestock they raise.

“The price of them was not acceptable to me and the whole premise behind the idea of four companies dictating what my future is going to be - I wanted to take matters into my own hands, so, we cut out a bunch of middlemen and just started selling direct,” Kolousek says.

He and his wife began calling and texting friends and posted an ad on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in purchasing a quarter beef – or 160 pounds of hamburger, steaks and roasts direct from them.

“After the first round, it really picked up. You know, once we got the word out there and people were commenting on Facebook page about the quality of the product, then it kind of started snowballing from there,” Kolousek says.

Ruth Anne Hanson was among their first customers. A Facebook friend of Amber Kolousek, Hanson lives in Huron and works for a South Dakota-based credit union. As a kid, she went through 4-H with Amber and now as an adult, she was eager to support a South Dakota beef producer.

“There’s a huge difference for me when I’m preparing a meal and I know where the beef comes from. I know the people that worked with that Hereford. And, well for me, Kolousek beef is flavorful, and our family’s purchase of beef needs to go direct to a South Dakota producer,” Hanson says.

Just two years after making their first direct sale, Scott and Amber Kolousek have a waiting list of customers like Hanson. In 2022 they sold about 40 head of cattle direct to consumers.

Again, Scott Kolousek.

“You got to remember, it’s only 25 animals out of 600, but it sure makes me feel good to know that I’m doing something…It’s rewarding, hearing people compliment us about the product that we raise. We know that there’s always room for improvement, but we know we have our cattle and the genetics where we want to be. That’s rewarding. Also, the fact that I get to set the price of what I want for the beef and I get paid what I want for the beef – what I need to make a good living,” Kolousek says.

Just down the road from Kolousek’s farm, hog farmer, Drew Kraft has had a similar experience selling a small percentage of his finished hogs direct to consumers.

“We sell 30 pigs and 20 to non-relatives. We get to interact with some of them a little bit. It’s kind of nice to let people know they support local. You know – all the sausage in that patty is from one pig…you get a little more money from your pigs because you are doing marketing, the consumer saves money and you get the relationship with your consumers,” Kraft says.

Because his pigs are raised outdoors in large outdoor lots with access to a hoop barn, and they are not given antibiotics, Kraft sells the majority of his pigs to Niman Ranch, a natural pork processor. By selling direct to consumers he is able to earn a bit more per pound, while at the same time his customers also save money.

Local meat processing plants, or meat lockers as they are often called, are key to Kraft and Kolouseks’ ability to market their livestock direct to consumers.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I want that customer to be happy because I know they took the time to raise it and they trust us,” says Wade Warejcka.

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Courtesy photo
Wade Warejcka is a second-generation butcher.

For consumers who have never purchased meat direct from a farmer and worked with local meat locker before, Wade Warejcka says don’t be intimidated. Local butchers like him are eager to help consumers decide what cuts of meat will work best with their cooking and grilling habits.

Wade Warejcka is a second-generation butcher. He grew up working for his parents in the Platte Locker. First at the trim table. By the time he was 11, he was helping butcher.

For years he and his family have worked with local farmers and ranchers who sell a few head of cattle or pigs direct to consumers. During the COVID-19 pandemic the Platte Locker saw a huge increase in demand for local meat. And although demand has slowed down a bit, he says processing demand has remained double what it was pre-pandemic.

And Warejcka expects the demand for local meat to hold.

“The quality is going to be way better. … Every beef is going to be a bit different, but it has not been sitting in a cooler for months before it gets out to he customer. It’s been cut fresh. We hang our beef 10 to 14 days so it’s a lot more fresh and the color is a lot better,” Warejcka says.