RHODESDALE, Md. — If you’ve driven down Eldorado-Federalsburg Road in Rhodesdale, Md., lately, a large beef cow statue has probably caught your attention.
Wondering what it is? The oversized cow marks the driveway for Great Expectations Farm, a local beef operation and on-site meat market owned and operated by Jason and Dawn Barnes.
Jason Barnes found his love for cows as a child on his parent’s farm. When Jason and Dawn married in 1994, poultry houses served as the main operation on the farm. But Jason Barnes carried on his passion for cows and together, he and his wife raised and sold their herd of 25-30 cows to friends and family.
The operation quickly grew to a herd of more than 100 beef cows that rotationally graze on about 100 acres of pasture. They are fed a mixture of corn and grain, which the Barneses grind themselves from crops they’ve grown or purchased from other local farmers.
Along with a few hired employees, the couple’s two sons, Wyatt, 16, and Garrett, 12, are also involved in the business.
Calves are kept with their mothers for a year or more until they reach approximately 600 pounds. They are then weaned and sorted to either become replacement heifers for the herd or sold to market once they are at least 2 years old. To ensure the quality of their calves, the Barneses purchase a new bull every two years, too.
The couple started selling their own beef as frozen quarters and halves to family and friends, but demand spread quickly via word of mouth, and they realized there was a market for fresh, local beef. In the past, they sold about 10 cows a year, which has now grown to around 30 cows a year, and they project by 2015 they will be able to sell 50 cows per year.
The on-farm meat store officially opened in May 2013 with sales of beef and pork.
“Even though we don’t process our meat on-site, we are able to increase our bottom line by selling directly to the consumer and cutting out some of the middlemen,” Jason Barnes said.
“It can be difficult to sell to our friends and family because sometimes when the cows are ready for market, they don’t have enough freezer space or they’re simply not ready for more meat. And the farm market has been a great outlet for selling in these cases,” Dawn Barnes said.
The couple have also found farmers markets to be a vital place to garner sales.
“For a small business just starting out, farmers markets have kept us alive,” Dawn Barnes said.
The couple are regular vendors at the Salisbury and downtown Berlin farmers markets year-round. Dawn Barnes said that because they market a niche product, they have been asked to attend many more markets, but do not have the time nor the product available.
On average, they are selling 10-20 pounds of ground beef per day at each farmers market they attend. And the couple have found that beef is just as seasonal as vegetables in regards to what consumers want to purchase. In the winter, consumers purchase more roasts, and in the summer, demand is high for steaks.
The farm has also recently gained access to a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) machine that they will be able to use at farmers markets and the on-farm market. This will allow users of the SNAP program to purchase their fresh beef.
“Our business has grown mainly by word of mouth,” Dawn Barnes said, adding that their only source of advertising has been handing out a few business cards, managing a Facebook page and the large cow statue at the end of the driveway.
“I bought the cow at an auction about six years ago and it just sat in our shop for the longest time,” Jason Barnes said.
Dawn Barnes said that she was afraid they were never going to do anything with the statue, but she said they get many passing cars that stop in just to ask about the cow and its purpose.
The Barneses admit that nothing is perfect with starting a new business. They have faced many challenges including upfront costs, finding quality used equipment and keeping the meat at the right temperature.
Currently, the on-farm meat market is open 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., six days per week, staffed by the couple themselves. Some days it is a challenge to accommodate the customers. Sales are not high enough yet to hire help, so they have to balance their time between the farm, the on-site market and the farmers markets.
For the future, the couple wants an on-site butcher, which would provide them the opportunity to sell their meat fresh instead of frozen like it is now.
“The business is definitely growing and it is satisfying to see its success based on the work we put into it,” Jason Barnes said.
To learn more about Great Expectations Farm or to find contact information to purchase locally grown beef, check out their Facebook page by searching “Great Expectations Farm.”