Willie and Brooke Murphy work together to connect directly with customers through the retail beef facility they opened in September of 2023. Willie works with his brother and uncle on the production side while Brooke manages the retail side, and their three children Addie, Willow and Graham.

Changing to meet demand while maintaining quality production

By Matt Reese

In an effort to better serve area customers with top-quality beef, Murphy Farms in Clinton County diversified their offerings in some unique ways, while continuing to do what has been working for many years.

Willie Murphy and his family stay very busy on their row-crop, cattle and contract hog farm in Clinton County. Willie farms with his brother and uncle and his wife, Brooke, does the books. They put tremendous work into maximizing production and quality with all of the end products coming from their farm. In recent years, they have also worked to improve options for marketing their beef directly to customers.

The Murphys have around 60 brood cows on pasture and two feedlot buildings where they feed 220 to 250 head a year. They have sold freezer beef directly to customers for many years.

The Murphys have around 60 brood cows on pasture and two feedlot buildings where they feed 220 to 250 head a year.

“We’d have people come to us and say, ‘I’m not quite ready for quarter or my half. I ate all of my burger, but I’ve got another 2 month’s worth of roasting steaks’ or ‘I could really use 20 pounds of hamburger to get me by.’ And then we’d get other people that would call and say, ‘I could use a handful of steaks,’” Willie Murphy said. “And then, you know, with the way prices have gone up, there’s some people that can’t afford a quarter or a half. They want to buy $50 at a time or $100 at a time. We have had a lot of people ask about that, so we decided we’ll just try to sell a pound at a time.”

What may initially seem to be a simple decision to add a retail location on the farm has proven to be a long and costly journey, but one worth the effort.

“We started planning this building in 2018 or 2019. The week we poured the concrete, my dad unexpectedly passed away. That was August of 2020. When that happened, the building was put on the backburner,” Murphy said. “Then lumber prices went through the roof so we kind of put it on the back burner again and then it’s been about a year ago now since we really started talking about it again, trying to figure out what we’re going to do because we had this concrete pad. We decided we’re going to build a retail building and we found a builder and, basically, we had to build it to commercial standards.”

With commercial standards comes the need for extensive upgrades and inspections.

“The biggest thing was liability insurance. Our insurance company made us go through the process with the health department to get approved, get a food license and the whole nine yards so we could buy the insurance,” he said. “Getting all that accomplished was that the worst part of the process. And we had to obviously have a building for the retail space. The building had to be inspected by the building inspector, the electrical inspector — the health department had to have all these inspections to make sure we met all their standards. It was quite a process. Then we had to buy a commercial freezer like you would see in a restaurant or in a gas station. It has a special stamp inside of it that deems it to be ‘commercial’ and if you don’t have that they won’t approve it, so had to have this special commercial freezer, which is about three times more than just a regular freezer you put in your house. Once we got that and the health department signed off on everything, we finally were able to get up and going. Once the building was up it took us couple months to make that happen.”

The retail building opened last September and sits right outside of the Murphy’s home. Brooke manages the retail shop most of the time and markets the products on social media. The shop has set hours from 4 p.m. to to 7 p.m. weekdays, except Thursday when it’s closed, Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday afternoons from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Sunday afternoons are the busiest time of the week,” Murphy said. “When someone comes, we just walk out of the house and go out to the building and take care of them. My wife picks up my oldest daughter from school, so they don’t get back from school until 3:45 and then that 3 hours in the evenings gives our customer base plenty of time for people that get off work at 5. It works for them to stop on their way home from work. And, if they want to come at another time, we can do it by appointment as well.”

Customers seem to appreciate the flexibility the new retail location offers and they enjoy the chance to actually visit the farm.

“We get a lot of people that come from the city or from places far away. We always try to ask everyone where they’re from. We’ve had people come from as far as an hour and a half away to buy meat,” Murphy said. “They want to buy a local product and being able to come to the farm and see the cows and calves right there close to the building, you know, I think that really helps. With whole farm setting, they can put that connection together and see where their meat came from.”

Locally produced, locally processed beef has been a popular offering from Murphy Farms.

The Murphys have also been working with The Porch Grill and Carryout in Hillsboro, and Heritage Meat Company in Washington Court House.

“We supply the cattle to Heritage Meat Company. They do the processing and they got us connected with the restaurant. That’s how we got started,” Murphy said. “The restaurant uses a bunch of hamburger, but we can’t supply them with enough steaks. It is about two beef a week to take care of their hamburger demand. To take care of their steak demand would probably be somewhere around 6 beef a week, and then we’d have extra hamburger. So, what’s been working pretty well for us is selling hamburger to them and then we take the extra and, with the butcher, we are selling it through our retail store. We keep back the uniform porterhouse steaks or uniform ribeyes and once we’ve got 30 or 40 of those saved up, we take them to The Porch and they’ll have a local steak special on a Saturday night. Every night they’ve done it, they sold out.”

The combination of these marketing efforts has been a good fit for farm’s beef production, with help from all of the family and long-time employee Davey Allen.

“Now about a third of our cattle are for our freezer beef business — wholes, halves and quarters, about a third of our cattle go to either to the restaurant or our retail store on the farm, and then the other third of them generally will go to the stockyards to be sold on the open market. That is our fallback if we don’t sell them as freezer beef,” Murphy said.

The farm started an online presence for marketing the beef.

“My wife does a really good job trying to not flood Facebook but make at least a post every day about something — pictures of cows or something going on around the farm —something different every day. That seems to get a lot of views,” he said. “I built a website on godaddy.com. It wasn’t too bad to build. It took me a few hours on the weekends for a couple of weekends. It has our hours and it explains how the retail side of the business works with the wholes, halves and quarters and there’s one page that’s just all about us and the farm. I thought building the site was going to be the challenging part but getting the website to launch and to show up when you type it in on Google, that was the biggest challenge.”

The addition of the retail space has been beneficial, but current high beef prices are limiting the upside.  

“We’re making money with it, but there’s not a lot of margin in it right now because of the price of cattle. With the retail cuts specifically and the price of feeder cattle right now, we’ve got to be careful when we’re buying the feeder cattle. We’ve got to be careful to not price the meat too high because people won’t buy it from us and go to the grocery store,” Murphy said. “We really haven’t changed anything we do on the production side. We always have fed a lot of heifers because you can buy them a little bit cheaper than steers. We built a set of scales so we can weigh the cattle when they come in and weigh them when they go out. We found with the heifers we can get the hanging weight around 800 to 900 pounds, which is about ideal and you get more uniformity in the steaks. The steers will get too big and then they get up around that 1,000 pounds and then you get giant steaks that are hard to sell.”

In addition to what they raise, the Murphys buy Angus from several other area farms and from the stockyards.

“We’ve kept track over the years where we buy them from and who we buy them from so we know. The stockyards does a good job of advertising who’s selling cattle and when we see a group of cattle they’re going to sell that we fed before and we know they cut out really well, we’ll try to buy that particular set of cattle because we know what we’re going to get,” Murphy said. “Right now, our brood cow numbers are down a little bit just because the price of cull cows is pretty good. We’re finishing up calving in March and we’ll bring in 220 or so more calves to feed out. We try to preserve our pasture for the brood cows but we do occasionally turn some smaller calves out on grass. Otherwise, we’ve got two separate buildings where we finish them out or where we start them. In the barn where we start them, it’s got four pens. As they get bigger, we move them through the building. Once they get up to 1,000 pounds or so we load them to the front building where we finish them out.”

The vast majority of the cattle feed and bedding (straw and corn stalks) is provided by the farm’s crop ground (including 150 acres of hay ground). In the finishing barn the cattle are fed a ration of 30% ear corn and 70% ground shelled corn, with a supplement.

“We’ve got a John Deere two-row corn picker and four wire corn cribs that’ll hold 1,000 bushels apiece. We’ve collected and borrowed gravity wagons that we fill up and put in the barn. We plant a little earlier maturity corn close to the feedlot that we can pick. We start picking corn around the first of October and then we’ll pick all the way through harvest. This last year the weather got away from us and on Jan. 4 we were picking the last four loads,” Murphy said. “Once the calves get to 1,000 pounds, that’s all they get. There’s no free choice hay or anything other than ground ear corn and the ground shelled corn. It makes really good feed. The cattle do really well on it and it’s easy for us to handle. People want to buy quality so there’s a lot of repeat customers. People say that they’ve never found beef that’s as quality at the grocery store or anywhere. We hear that a lot. So, we continue to use the ear corn because we go by the old saying — it’s not broken so don’t fix it. It still works, so we just keep right on doing it.”

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