MINT HILL, NC – If you want truly local beef, Mullis Family Farm is the place to go.
Dale Mullis raises Holsteins on 14 acres located on Arlington Church Road. “As a kid, my mom and daddy would get baby calves, and I would raise them on a bottle,” says Mullis. “It was a little bit of extra money for me as a kid, and I was doing the same thing for my kids. I would get the baby bull calves for my kids to raise, and then they’d sell them and it’d be their money, a little something for them to do and get a sense of responsibility.”
If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. Don’t Holsteins make milk?” you’re right. Holsteins are traditionally a dairy breed, so Mullis was surprised to stumble across the results of a taste test that said dairy breeds were actually outranking beef breeds in taste.
It got Mullis thinking. “We had some calves, and we’d had several people say, do you ever sell meat?” recalls Mullis. “It’s something we’d always thought about, but we hadn’t done it.” Mullis decided to give it a try. He raised a single cow and had it processed and split between several families.
“Everybody loved it,” he says. “That was nine years ago, and we just kind of took off from there!” Mullis bottle and bucket feed the baby calves until they’re old enough to go out on the pasture, where they range freely on grass and spent grain from local breweries. When they’re about 1500 pounds – about two years old – Mullis takes them to Cruse Meat Processing outside Mount Pleasant.
Mint Hill residents would be hard-pressed to find a product more local and natural than Mullis’ beef. “The dairy we get them from is just down on Bethel Extension,” says Mullis. “They’re raised from calf to slaughter right here, so their whole life from birth to processing is within 20 miles of here.”
“They’ve had a good cow’s life,” he continues. “They’re in the pasture, they’ve got water, feed, grass, shade, sun. No antibiotics, no added hormones. They can live a good life for over two years. I’ve got each one of them tagged; I know everything about them. If you’ve got a question, I can tell you.”
Mullis doesn’t breed the cows himself; instead, he sees himself as a sort of recycler, making use of the male calves dairies can’t use. “The dairies keep their heifers for replacement milk cows, but they’ve got no use for the bull calves,” says Mullis. “We’re taking the unwanted calves and the unwanted grain and making a heck of a product.”
What sets Holstein beef apart, according to Mullins, it’s its marbling and low-fat content. “It marbles more thoroughly,” says Mullis. “They don’t convert feed as efficiently as a beef cow, so it’s a really lean meat.”
It’s a popular product, too. Mullis has sold to a few local restaurants, but mainly he sells his beef at the Mint Hill Farmers Market and out of his home on Arlington Church Road. “Just with people coming to the house and going to the farmer’s market, we pretty much don’t keep meat,” he says.
To keep up with demand, Mullis recently purchased 65 acres in Chesterfield, SC. He currently has 51 cows in all, 35 of them at his home in Mint Hill. A career Charlotte fireman, Mullis currently works nights part-time at the West Stanley and Midland Fire Departments and farms during the day.
Mullis has a few pigs and chickens, but for the future, he hopes to focus on growing his beef business. “I think there’s an unlimited market,” he says. “I know that more people are looking for locally-produced products, and I feel like we have a quality product. I would like to be able to sustain it If any of my kids want to do it full-time or part-time.”
Mullis takes a lot of pride in providing what he calls a “good, honest product” – something that is what he says it is and comes from where he says it comes. “I get great satisfaction out of somebody saying I had one of your steaks the other night, and it was awesome,” says Mullis, who also prides himself on keeping his product affordable. “I feel like my prices stay at or below, a supermarket, organic or grass-fed prices,” he adds. “If I can’t afford to eat it, I wouldn’t expect you to come and buy it.”
You’ll find Mullis Family Farm every Saturday at the Mint Hill Farmers Market. If you can’t make it to the market, you can reach Dale by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (704) 995-6411.