When you own a beef operation, it may seem counter-intuitive to name all of your cattle. That kind of personal touch is just one of many that have endeared Stoney Hill Cattle Co. in Charlestown, RI to their customers and their community.
In 1955, Ben Luchka purchased a dairy farm on what is now Stoney Hill Cattle Co. (SHCC). The owner of a paper mill, he had rented land for years, hoping for an opportunity to buy. He jumped at the chance. In the 1960’s he shifted his business model from dairy to beef and sheep.
Ben’s son Ken, Ken’s family, and Ken’s brother worked on the farm until 1996 when Ben and Ken suddenly died within weeks of each other. As they navigated the loss of two family members, the remaining family operated two separate businesses on the farm.
Ken’s brother ran one and Ken’s daughters, Nina and Kim; Kim’s husband, Bill Coulter; and their son Josh ran the other. In 2005, Nina and Kim bought out their uncle completely and the existing SHCC came to be.
The intervening years have been years of transition for SHCC. The farm currently carries 25 head of cattle, 150 chickens, 35 turkeys and about 15 hogs per annum on its 200 acres. They no longer run sheep. All the meat is USDA cut, wrapped and flash frozen. In the past, beef was sold primarily by halves. Now they offer a variety of cuts including their own all-beef hotdogs.
Their sales venues continue to evolve as well. Nina, Kim and Bill have been selling at farmers markets for a decade. This year, Josh will start selling at one himself. A future goal, however, is to shift the majority of sales back to the farm. Josh already operates the farm stand on weekends, but he will also open it for individual customers by appointment. He would like to make the farm a destination, a place where people come to enjoy seeing the animals and the scenery as well as taking pleasure in knowing where their meat comes from.
To that end, they have recently hired a marketing specialist to help clarify their message and identify the best times to post updates on social media. The fact that this particular marketing specialist, a self-professed “recovering vegetarian,” is working with them is possibly the best advertisement they could have.
The desire to keep the family farm intact has been a driving force for Nina and Kim. The fourth generation on the farm, Josh feels that just as strongly. Purchase offers and auxiliary business deals present themselves from time to time, but so far the family has refused them all. Josh declares, “I would rather eat Ramen noodle soup than sell the farm.”
Keeping the farm finances strong means that most of the family also works outside jobs. Nina is a Business Development Officer at a local bank. Bill and Josh work construction. At this time, only Kim is full-time on the farm. Josh hopes that the next couple of years will find him farming full-time as well. About farming he observes, “You either love it, or you hate it. It’s a passion of ours.”
That passion encourages them to steadily improve all aspects of the farm and the business. The Angus-Hereford herd is all bred live cover, but a constant focus on carcass quality determines which bulls they use. The buildings are getting a face-lift of bright white paint with red trim.
Arguably the biggest improvements have come as a result of an NRCS building project. A new loading dock will reduce the effort and stress of loading animals. A new bunk and heavy use area will increase animal comfort and reduce the impact the animals have on the environment.
Taking care of the environment is a priority at SHCC. Kim believes they are “land stewards . . . We take care of what we’re blessed to be able to own.” They also view themselves as ambassadors for agriculture. The way they dress, the detailing on their trucks, the appearance of the buildings . . . it all reflects on agriculture as a whole, and they aim to make a good impression. Kim and Nina have even volunteered time at local Exploring the Small Farm Dream classes to talk with aspiring farmers about the realities of the profession.
It is clear that SHCC has a good reputation with their customers. When orders are delayed because animals are a little behind getting finished, their customers willingly wait the extra month or two. They know the quality they’re getting, and that is more important to them than timing.
Perhaps the most satisfying commendation, however, actually comes from within. Each year SCHH hosts a family reunion, and each year the oldest attendees pull them aside and say, “Thank you for keeping the memories alive.” If the current generations have anything to say about it, SHCC will be not only keep the old memories alive, but they’ll be making plenty of new ones for generations to come.