A Profitable Accident

City Kids Turn Rural Lifestyle Into $1.4 Million Meat Sales Business

Tanner and Catherine Klemcke are expanding their operation to include their own local meat processing facility, capable of processing poultry as well as beef. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Des Keller)

What started as a desire for two city kids in Texas to move to the country, own 5 to 10 acres and keep a horse has turned into an online mail-order, pasture-raised meat business with more than $1.4 million in annual sales.

That's not to say that Tanner and Catherine Klemcke's 1915 Farm, near the tiny crossroads of Meyersville, doesn't still have the trappings of a hobby farm. There's Benny, the now-grown Brahman steer turned family pet, who comes when called, and followed along as DTN/Progressive Farmer toured the 57-acre farm. But even Benny can't upstage Piper, the couple's dog, an enthusiastic Weimaraner who figures prominently and frequently in the farm's social media posts.

Truth is, Piper and Benny are totally on-brand for 1915 Farm, helping cultivate a following for the beef, pork, and chicken the Klemckes raise -- and their all-American, back-to-the-land lifestyle.


The transition from careers in pharmaceutical marketing (Catherine) and the oil industry (Tanner) began nearly a decade ago as they searched for land near Victoria, where they both worked. In 2013, their realtor called with a deal for 57 acres and a "free" house.

"The house proved to be an uninhabitable shack," Catherine said. "The free house turned out to be kind of a joke, but we fell in love with the land." The couple spent three years fixing up the house before attempting anything remotely agricultural.

The name of the farm -- 1915 Farm -- refers to a date written on one of the joists in the attic Tanner found while renovating the old house.

Originally, all Tanner and Catherine wanted to do was raise quality food for themselves. Heavily influenced by documentaries such as "Food Inc.," they sought what they believed to be healthier and better-tasting products.

"We had an acreage," Catherine said, "so we thought it wouldn't take much to have a couple of pigs, a calf and 50 chickens. You don't know what you don't know, and we're naturally confident people."

Tanner agrees. "It can be a benefit not coming from the industry," he said. "We didn't have preconceived notions. What made sense to us was allowing the animals to feed off the land and do their work the way they were made to do."

Once headed down that road, the Klemckes came to believe they could share what they raised -- and maybe do it full time. They put their first animals on the pastures in May 2017, but didn't have the confidence to quit their full-time jobs until the end of 2018.

"We never went the farmers market route," Catherine explained. "We knew pretty quickly it wouldn't work."

Instead, 1915 Farm packed and delivered boxes of food in the region to numerous regular customers and at set pickup locations. Business was brisk but not overwhelming.

Compared to cattle or pigs, chickens finish fast, providing quicker cash-flow. As valuable, if not more so, is the benefit chickens provide to the farm's pastures by scratching for food and fertilizing the soil.

"The results of having chickens in the pastures was almost immediate," Tanner said. "Within days of moving their shelter, you can see the fresh regrowth in the soil."

Grow-out times are longer in a pasture-raised system. Chickens raised in commercial confinement on feed reach market weight in four to five weeks, while the 1915 Farm's birds take eight and one-half weeks. Their cattle graze pasture for two years before being marketed. Cattle raised conventionally and feedlot-finished reach market in about 14 months.

The couple readily admit to some miscalculation -- or naivete -- in their estimates on what it would take to make a living off 57 acres. "We thought with 30 head of cattle, 60 hogs and 1,000 chickens raised annually, we'd be set," Catherine said. "Boy, were we ever wrong," she said with a laugh. "Those numbers were too low."


By June 2019, the Klemckes realized that to generate more revenue, they'd need to add more delivery routes, trucks, and drivers. "That was the only way to scale it up," Catherine continued. As it was, the couple were making 40 stops per month and required customers to have a minimum order of $75.

"We decided to go all in on shipping," she added. "It was the hardest decision we've had to make."

The Klemckes set out to learn how best to package their frozen meats for shipping. Hint: Lots of insulated packaging, dry ice and a good relationship with UPS is involved. They built a warehouse-style structure to handle the storing, packaging and shipping of products across Texas and the U.S.


Business as usual, right? Wrong. Enter 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turns out, many people were staying home -- a lot. And they were ordering things online that they used to travel to purchase. 1915 Farm benefited from that, big-time.

In 2019, the farm did $140,000 in sales. In 2020, it sold and shipped $1.4 million worth of chicken, pork, and beef. Sales have continued to increase in the two years since.

In 2022, the average customer order was $179. Customers who are subscription regulars -- those who commit to purchasing every month or every other month -- get free shipping if they live in Texas, and a reduced rate for out of state.

"That eats into our margin, but it keeps the lights on and keeps the money coming in," Catherine said. The company has 1,700 subscription customers and 14,000 total customers on its mailing list, and it processes 230 orders per week. It has three full-time employees to handle online orders and another full-time employee on the farm.


This year, the Klemckes began construction on their own local meat processing facility, the only one in Texas capable of processing poultry as well as red meat.

They've greatly appreciated their relationships with the half-dozen small-scale meat processors used during the past five years. The problem is that the closest facility they've used regularly is still one and a half hours away.

"In the last two months, we've put 18,000 miles on the vehicles," Catherine said. Their latest 74-acre land purchase is within 4 miles of their house -- and 10 acres is reserved for the new plant. The couple hopes to get a USDA grant to help with the project but will proceed with the facility regardless. The potential grant would be part of USDA's Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, which offers grants up to $25 million to expand existing plants or build new ones.

The new plant will be capable of processing 20 head of cattle, 35 hogs and 1,000 chickens per week. The Klemckes aren't counting on additional area farmer customers to utilize the facility "but that kind of depends on the demand," Catherine said.

And remember how the Klemckes underestimated the number of animals they would need to make a living? In 2022, the farm raised 30,000 chickens, 300 head of cattle and 360 pigs. The couple have purchased two additional parcels, one 98 acres and another 74 acres. They've enlisted a couple of additional ranchers to help raise and work cattle.

Animals aren't the only new addition to the farm. In January 2022, the Klemckes welcomed their first child, Brooklyn Jean. The young farm girl now gives Benny and Piper a run for their money when it comes to fan favorites on their Instagram account, @1915_farm.

"She loves the farm and the animals," Catherine said of Brooklyn Jean. "She's much happier outside than inside."

That's a good thing, because when asked about what the family did with their "downtime" in the evenings, the response generally involved riding around in the UTV to feed livestock and move irrigation reels.

"We don't really have a bunch of downtime," Catherine explained. "Maybe a Netflix movie later in the evening and a beer."

Editor's Note: To read more about 1915 Farm, go here: www.1915farm.com.