Missouri Pillar | MEAT+POULTRY

“We want to be known as a company that would only offer our customers foods that we know are good enough to feed our own families.” With this statement, Joe and Cherilyn Davis make it clear that quality and consistency are a virtual bylaw at their Davis meat processing business in Jonesburg, Missouri.

The family owned and operated processing plant they started in 1984 was built from the conversion of a pole barn and has today grown through six expansions into an 11,000 center square feet for contract slaughtering and processing, private labeling and meat retail.

Their measure of success can be counted in many ways, such as the over 1,000 prizes they have won in national and national dried goods competitions. Their professionalism is so well regarded that in recent years they have given up participating in certain competitions and volunteered their time to judge such events.

Most of their products are sold under the Pride of the Prairie label, a nod to the Prairie Township where Joe was born. But the pride factor is not just in their products and creativity. This is also apparent when asked about their titles in the company. Joe, Cherilyn and their daughter Jennifer Witthaus call themselves “members”, meaning members of the company that owns the business.

Originally a custom slaughter and processing plant for livestock owners, Davis Meat Processing has never let go of those roots, bringing farm animals from as far away as 90 miles. They were subject to state inspection over 15 years ago and in 2020 they began operating under federal meat inspection. Today, 22 accounts have a Davis private label for their finished meats for sale at farmers markets and other retail areas. Demand for Davis’ custom service kept the company dealing with custom cattle for at least a year. Joe, 66, estimates that around 90% of the hogs they process are for sale under the producers’ private label.

Growth forecast

Joe, who once worked for a packing company and later teamed up with a friend to run a processing business, says when he and Cherilyn bought the Jonesburg pole barn, they planned their expansions with a view to of future growth.

“We needed more space and needed to improve our product flow from the slaughter floor to the finished product area,” he said. “Then we removed an older chill zone and expanded our chill space and created a larger kill zone.

“We didn’t want the facility to look like a collection of small buildings, so we extended our roof to cover everything and give our red and white plant a different look. We are located just off Interstate 70, midway between St. Louis and Columbia, and from a distance it is easier to see and identify.

Asked about their roles as members, Cherilyn, who manages financial records and accounts, said there was redundancy at critical plant positions:

“Joe does most of the cutting of the meat and the repairs and maintenance of the equipment. Our daughter Jennifer and I also cut meat and can take on other roles as needed. Its very important. Jennifer, a graduate of the University of Missouri, has a degree in biological engineering specializing in food processing. She’s the smartest,” Cherilyn said.

Davis Meat Processing is family run and knowledgeable about all aspects of its operations. Joe claims he learned the trade at “the school of hard knocks”. They all claim that they learned processing and operating techniques by attending state and national trade shows where other small processors were eager to share their knowledge.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had a problem and needed help and I was able to just pick up the phone and contact another small factory owner who gave me expert advice said Joe.

Not only do the Davises have three generations (a total of five family members) in the operation, but they also have nine other employees.

And when it comes to appreciating other processors and associations for the help they have received, they also give back with panache. Cherilyn served as president of the Missouri Meat Processors Association in 2002; Joe took on the role in 2012 and Jennifer led the band in the same role in 2017.

Davis Meat Processing operates a davismeat.com website. They also use two billboards to promote and drive traffic to their factory. In addition to their support of local groups like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, they also license the use of their plant for University of Missouri meat science students to sharpen their skills and their knowledge in areas such as judging and carcass evaluation. They promote their meats at product shows and trade shows where the distribution of tasting samples has boosted their retail sales significantly.

The owners of Davis Meat Processing rely on billboards to direct new customers to their store, but word of mouth is the source of its longtime success. (Source: Davis Meat Processing)

Joe and Cherilyn noted that they operated a vibrant game processing business and were one of the few plants still accepting whole, skinless deer carcasses. They are known to process over 1,000 deer for customers.

The Davises have admitted that continuing to grow is part of their strategy, but getting reliable help is hard to come by.

“We have people who want to quit after a week or even after a day,” Joe said. “It’s hard work and in today’s society too many people just want to do something easy.

“Another obstacle is finding spare parts for old but very reliable equipment. You just can’t get these parts when you need them or maybe not at all. It’s a complaint we hear from many other processors who almost have to buy a new machine, when the one that needs a part or two is what they really want to use.

dream bigger

In 2015, a renovation added 1,500 square feet of retail space to the operation, a change the Davises said was a dream come true.

“It was something we always wanted to do to help us show off our products,” Cherilyn said. “We get a lot of traffic from the Interstate, but we gave up on shipping products to retail customers because of the exorbitant shipping charges that everyone is experiencing these days.”

A trip to the Davis Meat Processing retail area is indeed a yellow brick road trip to culinary heaven. The factory’s hickory-smoked bacon is one of its best sellers with flavor profiles that include cinnamon-rubbed bacon, peppercorn and BBQ Cajun as well as a country-cured version.

Although the competitions haven’t been a big push lately, Davis has recently made an entrance that has shined. In April, the company entered a contest by entering its Old Fashioned Summer Sausage that won Best of Show at the Hermann Sausage Festival, an award-winning fight for bragging rights in one of the best battlegrounds of the jerky makers.

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