Clay Kuegel learned how to raise cattle at a young age.
But until he and his father, Rod Kuegel, opened the family’s meat processing business — Beef and Bacon — on April 1, the 29-year-old cattleman had no experience in butchering.
“As far as actually cutting up (the beef), YouTube,” said Clay Kuegel about where he learned to butcher and process beef and pork. “We watched ‘Bearded Butchers’ and it taught us everything we needed to know.”
The Kuegels are generational Daviess County row crop farmers. They also grew tobacco but decided after 70 years to give it up. The family harvested its final tobacco crop last year.
That decision was made easier by purchasing the McLean County meat processing business just west of Beech Grove off Kentucky 56 from Wesley Spurrier in late 2020.
In February of the same year, a fire severely damaged the meat processing facility.
Instead of rebuilding, Spurrier sold the business to the Kuegels who took on the remodeling effort and revived it 14 months later.
Rod Kuegel said he considers Spurrier a “good friend” and it became an ideal opportunity for them both.
“When Wes started this plant, I sold him 4 acres off our cattle farm to build it,” Rod Kuegel said. “And I didn’t want somebody I didn’t know for a neighbor that may have problems.”
The Kuegels have combined the meat processing with their Kuegel Cattle Co., which has allowed them to transition out of growing tobacco and move into a different venture where they saw a demand.
“Wes decided he wanted to do something else and I wanted to quit tobacco because we weren’t making money at it,” Rod Kuegel said. “So a lot of things caused this to happen.”
To ensure the H-2A Hispanic workers who helped in the Kuegels’ tobacco fields didn’t lose their incomes, they now make up the butchering and processing crew. At least three of the six employees have butchering experience.
And on Tuesday, they were churning out everything from ground beef to ribeye steaks.
Clay Kuegel, who also speaks Spanish, has known some of the workers all of his life and is there translating and guiding them throughout the day.
His older brother, Luke, has assumed this spring’s planting duties as Clay and Rod Kuegel concentrate on getting the meat processing business off the ground.
Currently, Beef and Bacon can only custom process whole cows, pigs and other livestock for individuals. Once they have an on-site USDA inspector, they will be able to sell and distribute fresh cuts of meat to the public.
Rod Kuegel said it will likely be two months before the USDA inspector arrives.
“The USDA inspector verifies your process; he doesn’t inspect the beef so-to-speak,” Rod Kuegel said. “It’s to make sure you have the right cleanliness and the right troubleshooting if you have a breach.”
Even without the inspector, the Kuegels still have all the work they can handle with custom orders, with most of it being cows that people are wanting butchered into different cuts of beef.
“We started taking reservations in January and in six weeks we were completely booked for the year,” Rod Kuegel said.
The plan is for Clay Kuegel to eventually take the sole reins of Beef and Bacon.
And for him, he’s confident that the family made the right decision and investment for the future.
“People are always going to want meat but not everybody’s going to want to smoke,” Clay Kuegel said. “And we’ve seen that over the years; (smoking) has gone down every single year.”
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299