From an ostrich to an endless number of hogs, McCreary County meat processor and feed mill operator, Leamon Perkins, has processed it all!
Leamon Perkins is a survivor.
Unlike those folks who see little hope of establishing a successful, small business in McCreary County, Leamon is of the mindset that most people leave McCreary County to secure a job because it’s just easier to get a job that way. He, on the other hand, chooses to keep growing his business in his own hometown, citing a preference to “pick with the chickens and roost at home before soaring with the eagles elsewhere.”
Being the survivor he is, Leamon has done quite well with his business, Perkins Feed & Farm Supply (and Meat Processing) located on Leamon Richmond Road off Bethel Highway in East Pine Knot.
Perkins’ meat processing business has been in operation for a quarter of a century, opening its doors to meat-hungry customers for the first time in 1990. In 2000, he expanded the business to include feed and farm supplies.
Today, in addition to the meat processing operation, Perkins proudly claims the only feed mill ever established in McCreary County. With his mill, Perkins grinds out customized blends of feed for animals of all kinds. To date, Perkins has thirty-two feed recipes registered at the University of Kentucky under the name of Perkins Feed & Farm. These registered feeds are not to be duplicated.
The idea of selling feed and farm supplies alongside his already established meat processing business began out of necessity. With his wife raising bottle fed calves, Perkins quickly discovered that it required an inconvenient drive to Onedia, TN or Somerset, KY to buy the necessary baby calf milk. Realizing the need for a local source of feeds, medications, vaccines, and other farm supplies, Perkins sprang into action.
After deciding to add a feed mill and a line of farm supplies to his business, Perkins hit the road and began taking educational road trips. He journeyed to other states, locating and visiting feed mills. He learned a lot.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to get away from home to learn how to do things,” Perkins laughed. “I didn’t pose a threat to anyone’s business when I visited mills in other states. I learned a lot from the people in those mills.”
Perkins soon learned making custom feed for animals is almost like whipping up an entrée in the kitchen. First, the ingredients are laid out by following a “recipe.” Flipping through Leamon’s book of animal feed recipes, it’s quite common to find a recipe calling for 100 pounds of whole corn, 100 pounds of cracked corn, and 15 pounds of black sunflower seeds along with other common ingredients such as oats, milo and wheat. Once “laid out,” the ingredients are processed (ground and mixed together) in the mill.
Perkins makes customized feed for “anything that eats.” His extensive lines of feed run the gamut including feed for goats, beef, sheep, wild birds, and more. In addition to using his own registered recipes, Perkins also prepares feed using special recipes supplied by customers. He also carries commercially prepared feed including a variety of different dog foods.
For a local, family business, Perkins receives remarkably large orders from customers across Kentucky and other states. One regular customer depends on Perkins Feed and Farm Supply to furnish 1,000 pounds of feed every ten days. Another satisfied patron recently drove off with a ton of Leamon’s feed. Much of his big business comes from areas around Knoxville, TN including Sevierville and Lafollette, Tennessee.
“By having a feed mill, I know exactly what is in the feed,” Perkins remarked. “Best of all, the customer knows exactly what is in the feed. I can show them.”
Perkins has, of course, had setbacks along the way.
He faced a huge loss when his meat processing building burned to the ground almost nine years ago. However, through the process of rebuilding, Perkins saw himself as blessed from God and from his fellow man.
“There are days when you can’t walk by yourself,” Perkins commented. “Those are the days you look back on and know that God carried you.”
Perkins recalled the devastating fire.
“The building burned on Monday. It was the very next day when a guy from Tennessee who had heard about the fire called and asked if I would cut the damaged meat house scale out of the ruins and send it to him to give to his father. I did that for the fella, but then about a week later, the UPS truck pulled up with a delivery. It was the refurbished scale. The guy had repaired it and sent it back to me. He figured I’d build back, and he wanted to buy the first piece for me!”
Perkins was searching for railing to install in a rebuilt slaughter house when he went to see the owner of the closed Knoxville based Lays Packing House. Showing the owner a diagram of what he needed, Perkins watched as the owner stood quietly, appearing to wait for Divine inspiration to make the decision about whether or not to help Leamon.
“The man finally agreed, and I ended up getting about $12,000 to $15,000 worth of equipment,” Perkins shared. “The guy said he would try to leave me enough to buy a ‘happy meal’ on my trip back home, and he told the truth about that! He sold me everything I needed for $372.00, and I had $385.00 in my pocket-just enough to get us some hamburgers on the way back home!”
With a refurbished scale and railing in his possession, Perkins, with his two teen-age sons by his side, quickly laid the first block. Forty-one days later, he was back to work in a newly built meat processing building.
When it comes to meat processing, Leamon is confident his business can do it all.
“We can help with the dietary program for the animal, we can make the feed, and we can process the animal when it is ready,” Perkins exclaimed. “I can sell you a hog and process it, or you can load your hog in your trailer and take it home.”
Perkins is a strict believer in buying and eating good meat.
“The last thing you’ll ever own in life is the last thing you eat,” he chuckled. “It goes with you. Since I’ll only go through this life once, I’m not going to eat low on the hog.”
With that in mind, Perkins refuses to purchase bottom lines of meat. Determined to sell quality meat that is affordable for families, he orders only better mid grades of meat to process and sell from his meat cases and is particular in preparing the meat for his customers. Vouching for the tenderness of his beef cube steaks, Leamon declared, “it’s all in how you cut, trim, and fold them!”
In addition, Perkins provides variety and convenience to his customers by offering specialty items such as bacon burger (ground chuck with smoked bacon), chicken cube steaks, and vacuum sealed individual pieces of meat for those who need to purchase only a single pork chop or chicken breast to make a meal.
“Extra” food items sold at Leamon’s –such as French fries, jalapeno bites, breaded mushrooms, and other tasty treats- are restaurant grade.
“This food is going to taste like the food you get when you eat out at a restaurant!” Perkins exclaimed.
After he and his meat processing business were featured in former Knoxville News Sentinel journalist Sam Venable’s book “Mountain Hands,” Perkins developed a strong and loyal customer base from Knoxville, TN.
“After reading the rough draft of my part in the book, I told Sam he had done two things I couldn’t do for myself,” Perkins chuckled. “He gave me a personality and a sense of humor!”
Today, in addition to his customers in Kentucky and Tennessee, Perkins processes meat for customers in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, and other states. His beef summer sausage is shipped all across the U. S.
Although he grew up learning the meat processing business from his father, Willard Perkins, and despite almost forty years of experience of his own, Perkins is constantly updating his knowledge by attending meat processing seminars at the University of Kentucky and watching business shows on television where he picks up new and creative ideas for running his business.
Perkins, who recoils at the mere thought of being called a butcher, is, first and foremost, a meat processor or meat cutter, and considers the term “butcher” to be a sort of slang insult to him and his trade. For Leamon, the term “butcher” doesn’t begin to express the skill, knowledge, and ability required to provide the exact cuts of meat needed to keep his hungry customers satisfied.
That skill, knowledge, and ability are just a few of the many reasons that Leamon Perkins is still roosting at home in McCreary County and doing a good job of “bringing home the bacon.”
Perkins Feed & Farm Supply (and Meat Processing) is located off of the Bethel Road in Pine Knot. The business is open M-F 9:00-6:00 and on Saturday from 9:00-5:00.