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Bluegrass Lamb & Goat is Open for Business

Story by Kara Keeton, Keeton Communications,
on behalf of the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development

Bluegrass Lamb Staff(Sept. 24, 2008) -- Dedication and determination have been the drivers for a group of producers with a dream to provide Kentucky’s goat and sheep producers an opportunity to process their animals locally.

Roger Thacker, Richard VanSickle, and Gil Myers have worked tirelessly over the years in Kentucky’s sheep and goat industries as volunteers and leaders in their industry organizations.

As the Kentucky goat industry began to grow and the sheep industry began to slowly rebound from its falling numbers, this group of producers and leaders realized there was something important missing in Kentucky’s small ruminant industry, a processing facility with a focus on goats and sheep.

“We discovered there was an idle processing plant in Garrard County that was not benefiting anyone in Kentucky agriculture or the consumers,” explained Gil Myers. “So by digging deep in our own pockets and with assistance from both the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board and the National Livestock Producers Association's Sheep and Goat Fund we were able to purchase the idle facility in 2007.”

Thacker, VanSickle, and Myers were joined by another investor Paul Osborne and the four officially opened the Bluegrass Lamb & Goat, LLC processing facility in October 2007.

Bluegrass Lamb & GoatCommunity and Cooperation

Myers said the small business has received a warm welcome from Kentucky agriculture organizations as well as the local community. In fact, Garrard County and ten other counties in the state have shown their support by providing county level Agriculture Development Funds to the project.

“It has been encouraging to see the counties recognize the importance of this project and show their support with funding. We hope to have the opportunity to work with other counties who are interested in supporting this project,” said Myers. “We feel we are investing the funds wisely to benefit producers in the goat and sheep industry across Kentucky.”

It isn’t just the financial support that has led to the early success of Bluegrass Lamb and Goat. Myers admits that it is also the business development and industry support that has been critical to the success of the operation.

“We are really blessed here in Kentucky to have a cooperative approach to agriculture and agricultural development,” said Myers. “Organizations like the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development—KCARD—are great assets to new and growing businesses that need guidance in business development.”

KCARD has worked with Bluegrass Lamb and Goat since the facility opened, providing basic business development assistance and technical services ranging from accounting software setup to efficiency improvement recommendations.

Myers explained that the owners and staff of Bluegrass Lamb and Goat have benefitted greatly from business development resources provided by KCARD staff, most recently by helping staff with QuickBooks training.

"Bluegrass Goat and Lamb owners developed a very pro-active business plan to initially start their business,” explained Larry Snell, KCARD Executive Director. “I am confident that they will implement the plan to reach their objectives and that the business will benefit many Kentucky sheep and goat producers.”

Kentucky Proud and USDA Inspected

In May 2008, Bluegrass Lamb & Goat received their approval from the US Department of Agriculture and became a federally inspected meat processing facility.

“As a custom processor, which is what we were when we opened in the fall, we could only provide products for family use,” said Myers in talking about the importance of being a USDA inspected facility. “In contrast, USDA inspected and labeled products may be sold to restaurants, groceries and transported across state lines opening up new marketing opportunities for producers.”

Myers says part of the initiative of Bluegrass Lamb and Goat is to help producers look for opportunities to market their value added products. Currently, they are working with about half a dozen producers to help them with their marketing efforts.

Even though they have only been USDA certified for two months, Myers says the marketing efforts are beginning to pay off as they are already seeing an interest in the retail sector for lamb, mutton and goat.

“We have been pleasantly surprised by the interest in the Hispanic consumers in Lexington for our products,” said Myers. “We have learned that these consumers have a relatively high preference for lamb, sheep, and goat products, and we have been able to replace the products they were carrying from overseas markets with fresher products, Kentucky Proud products, products grown right here on our farms in Kentucky.”

It isn’t just the ethnic communities that are interested in the fresh, Kentucky Proud products. Myers said that some producers are working with restaurants to provide a whole fresh product, as specialty chefs want the opportunity to further process the meat in cuts for unique dishes.

Above all though, Myers believes it is the fact they are able to provide local, farm fresh products that is driving the interest. To emphasize the freshness of the product produced at the facility, Myers says he and the other owners have trademarked BLUEGRASS FRESH™ for their products.

“You talk to anyone in the food industry and this local foods initiative is real, and it is a driving factor in our marketing,” explained Myers. “We chose BLUEGRASS FRESH™ as our trademark label to emphasize the freshness of our products and the origin right here in the Bluegrass. We are Kentucky Proud and Bluegrass Fresh only that which is locally grown and processed here in the heart of the Bluegrass will have those labels.”

Myers encourages sheep and goat producers interested in direct marketing or just having fresh meat for the family to contact Bluegrass Lamb and Goat. He does stress that the facility follows all state regulations and reminds all producers that for a goat or sheep to be purchased or processed—custom or USDA—it must have a scrapie tag.

“It has been a long process to get to this point, but we are excited to be able to provide a much needed service to the sheep and goat industries” said Myers. “Plus, it is exciting to see producers begin to reach out to the consumers and we are proud to provide them with a USDA labeled product to sell at local farmers’ markets, restaurants, and retail outlets in their community.”

To learn more about Bluegrass Lamb & Goat or to schedule processing contact the main office at (859) 925-2000.

For more information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund or an application please contact the National Livestock Producers Association at (800) 237-7193, ext. 10 or visit www.sheepandgoatfund.com.



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