Beefed Up: Calhoun family placing focus on raising, selling quality cattle

Luie Whitaker, owner and operator of Whitaker Farms Beef in Calhoun, bucket-feeds grain to a herd of steer Oct. 21.

Cattle has always been a part of Luie Whitaker’s upbringing.

“We raised cattle all the time,” Luie Whitaker said. “I don’t remember a time us not having a cattle. My granddad and my great-grandaddy had cattle on a farm. ...I’ve been around cattle all my life.”

A fifth-generation cattle farmer, Luie Whitaker, owner and operator of Whitaker Farms Beef, a cow-calf operation and stocker, grew up three miles down the road from his current property of 2151 Brooks School House Road.

Luie and Debbie Whitaker’s son, Houston, was the sixth generation and ran the farm with Luie Whitaker before passing away in 2012. Since then, Luie and Debbie Whitaker’s grandchildren, H.B., 15, and Zane, 14, have already started following their family’s footsteps.

“When Houston was alive, he and Luie did the cattle together,” Debbie Whitaker said. “They did everything.”

Luie Whitaker said that he slowed down the farming part of the business when Houston passed; taking care of about 500 acres as opposed to their original 2,000 acres.

But, the Whitakers have switched gears in terms of their primary focus.

“Our main objective now is cattle,” Debbie Whitaker said.

“My granddad … sold beef and was a butcher in Florida,” Luie Whitaker said. “We never didn’t have beef in the freezer because we always raised them. But, the thing that got me into selling it was the demand (and) profit. There’s not a whole lot of money in the cattle business. …When you go to the store and see 11 to 12 pounds (of beef), you think, ‘Somebody’s making a lot of money somewhere’ because us farmers aren’t get that return of what we’re selling.”

Luis Whitaker started the business in 2013 while he was recovering from a blood cancer and one of his chemotherapy nurses was inquiring about where to get good steaks from.

Whitaker Farms Beef sells their product by ¼, ½, and full steer, with the choice completely up to the customer. All of their sales are based on the steer’s live hoof weight and is set at the current market price of $1.55 per pound.

“(Customers) call in what they want,” Debbie Whitaker said. “They call the shots on anything they get.”

The farm does not slaughterhouse on site but has options for customers such as McLean County Meat Locker in Calhoun, Yoder’s Custom Butchering in Sebree, and Beef and Bacon Processing in Beech Grove.

“When we sell it, we let the customer make the choice of who they chose to butcher,” Debbie Whitaker said. “We let the customer choose who they want to go to for the processing.”

Luie Whitaker takes great pride in looking over the cattle throughout the process, which is usually between 18 to 20 months and a steer weighing in close to 1,200 to 1,300 pounds.

“I really enjoy raising the cattle,” Luie Whitaker said. “Everything I feed (them) is pretty much organic, in a sense. They’re grass fed, mainly. We bucket feed every morning and every night so it makes the calf or the steer very gentle.”

Since then, the business has become a family affair.

Luie and Debbie Whitaker’s daughter, Shelby Decker, leads the charge on marketing and sales of the operation.

“Without her, Luie and I wouldn’t be as prosperous,” Debbie Whitaker said.

After the customer makes an order, Decker said she will give them an estimate. The live steer is then delivered to the processing location of the customer’s choice.

Once the steer arrives, Decker calls the customer to let them know that they can contact the processing location to let them know how they would like their beef prepared.

Customers can then either have their order delivered or be able to pick it up at the processing location for a discounted rate.

The entire processing stage takes approximately two to three weeks to complete, while a processing fee is added to the final cost and varies depending on the processing location that the customer chooses.

The business has seen repeat customers from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee due to the care that the Whitakers take in the beef they sell.

“Everything that we’ve done so far has been word-of-mouth,” Luie Whitmaker said. “And the quality of beef that we raise — we try to get our nutrition right (and) have the proper marbling in it, proper texture, and a whole lot of leniency in them.”

Decker notes that business has witnessed a boom in the last few years.

“Once the pandemic hit, the supply was greater,” Decker said. “Business really picked up from there. We got to where we could, more monthly, get the steer slaughtered (and processed).”

While they have been successful with their current structure, Luie Whitaker has other plans down the road.

“The biggest thing that I’m trying to attempt is retail,” Luie Whitaker said. “I haven’t gotten to that point yet but (we’re) working on it.”

For more information on Whitaker Farms Beef, visit facebook.com/Whitaker- Farms-Beef-12263 35087471546 or contact Decker at (270) 499-0871.

Freddie Bourne, fbourne@mcleannews.com

Freddie Bourne, fbourne@mcleannews.com

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