Bluegrass Beef Boom

Barbara Meyer


Kentucky, a state long associated with world-class horses, is earning a reputation for first-class beef. The terrain is ideal - the same limestone content in the soil and water that infuses important properties into bourbon also adds value to a cow’s diet for the best possible meat flavor. Kiah Twisselman, The Kentucky Beef Council’s Director for Consumer Affairs says, “Kentucky farmers have always been great cultivators of the land and caretakers of livestock, producing wholesome food for families across the bluegrass and beyond. Today’s consumers want healthy, nutritious meal options without sacrificing a delicious eating experience, and the Kentucky beef industry has responded.”

Beef sales are once again on the rise due to lower prices, more choices, and greater awareness of the nutritional value of this high source of protein.

Kentucky is the largest beef producing state east of the Mississippi, the home of more than 38,000 beef cattle farmers and over 2 million head of cattle.

Beef Is Better Than Ever

In 1989, there were only six lean cuts of beef available in the meat case. Today, 70 percent of the meat case is lean beef with more than 39 lean beef cuts available. Lean beef packs big nutrition in a small package, with more than ten essential vitamins and nutrients and about half a day’s requirement for protein, all in a 3-oz.,150 calorie serving. Lean beef is a part of a heart-healthy diet, supplying fewer calories and more nutrients than plant proteins like quinoa and edamame.

“Today’s consumers are evolving as millennials surpass baby boomers as the largest generation,” Twisselman observes. “While cost and taste still drive purchases, millennials also value knowing where their food comes from, food as not just sustenance but an eating experience, as well as convenience when shopping. The beef industry is evolving with the changing marketplace, becoming more transparent in sharing their story from pasture to plate, reaching consumers where they are online with cooking tips and resources, and expanding retail options beyond the grocery store through avenues such as e-commerce (food delivery services, online shopping, etc.).”

Locally sourced beef is making an increased appearance in restaurants, grocery stores and specialty shops. “It all comes down to consumer demand,” Twisselman explains. “With the farm-to-table movement, many restaurants specifically source from local farms. The Kentucky beef industry has worked together to bring local meat options to Kroger, one of the state’s largest retailers, with choices like the new Kentucky Cattleman’s Ground Beef.”

Natural Methods - Premium Taste

You can purchase beef directly from local farms, with larger quantities available for the best value. Get a whole, half, quarter or eighth of a cow and customize your order, specifying the cuts of meat and package weight. Sellers often provide important tips for the best ways to prepare and cook the meat too.

Tom and Melissa McFarland are among the local farmers providing premium beef in central Kentucky. They believe that the finest cattle, raised safely, humanely, and in keeping with environmental sustainability yield the highest quality meat. Their Big Zeke Steaks line sold at their farm in Bourbon County is now available nationwide online at

“We put our cattle’s well-being and comfort first and foremost,” McFarland explains. “When cattle are stressed and upset, they don’t eat properly or develop to their fullest potential. Our “calm cattle” are primarily grass-raised and given all-natural feeds the traditional way, like our grandfathers did. We use no growth hormones, antibiotics or additives so the meat tastes better and is healthier.” As with a fine wine or artisan cheese, the right process makes all the difference, like the Big Zeke Steaks method of dry-aging their meat 14-21 days for optimum juiciness and tenderness. The result is beef rivaling that served at the finest restaurants in the country. “By starting with high-quality steaks, you can recreate a premium steakhouse experience for friends and family right in your own kitchen,” McFarland says.

Kentucky Raised - Kentucky Proud

Our government supports the growing local cattle industry. With help from the Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund, farmers are using acreage previously designated for tobacco to become beef cattle producers. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s “Kentucky Proud” promotional campaign has increased awareness of what’s available and helped producers, retailers, and restaurants market beef industry products and services to communities across the Bluegrass.

“People today want to know more about where their beef comes from and the families that produce it, and the Kentucky beef industry has stepped up to the plate to share that story.” Twisselman observes. “Look for Kentucky Proud beef where you shop and eat out across the state. Whether you prefer to buy beef from a local farmer or your local grocery store, you can feel confident in the products you choose.”