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Church Herd: A Cattle Ministry Means Fewer Hungry Bellies In Denton

Denton Bible Church has some unusual outreach programs. The "Sweat Team" is a group of folks who help clean up storm debris. And then there's the "Cattle Ministry," a church-run herd that provides beef to low income families in Denton. 

The pasture in Sanger features kids hanging off creaky fences, and insects clicking in the grass. The herd of cattle though? Surprisingly peaceful. You have to strain your ears to make out a moo.

The animals belong to Denton Bible Church, which started the cattle ministry 10 years ago.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
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Part of the 'Cattle Ministry' herd in the pasture in Sanger

"There was a couple at our church that donated two cows to us and told us, 'You can have them, but don't kill them.' So we decided to breed them and raise our own," said Kim Clarke, president of Beef Supply.

Beef Supply is the nonprofit that runs the production side of the cattle ministry. The herd is up to 62 animals, which is almost ideal. Two are slaughtered each month, which produces a substantial amount of ground beef.

"About 40,000 quarter-pounders a year, so 40,000 servings of beef a year out of this herd, currently," Clarke said.

Land, feed and hay for free

Most of the land the ministry operates on has been donated. Same goes for the hay and cattle feed. Clarke says that's made managing the herd pretty cost-effective.

"It's incredible; we've paid for insurance. We've paid for accountants, and we've paid for attorneys to set everything up," he said. "And everything else is pretty much donated."

If Beef Supply is the front end of this operation, the church's Vision Ministries is the back end. Michael Pirtle is its director.

"All the meat comes through Vision Ministries," Pirtle said. "We distribute to other partner agencies in the community. All of our clients when they come in to shop for groceries — we have a food pantry there at Vision Ministries — they take home at least three pounds of our hamburger meat."

Top quality beef

And Pirtle says the meat is much higher quality than what you can get at the supermarket — and for one simple reason. These burgers are made with steak.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news
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The land the cattle use in Sanger is donated, as is hay and feed.

"They're taking out the choice cuts, the steaks and everything and selling those. And we just grind 100 percent of that up. And so the meat that you're getting from the cattle ministry is going to be better than the hamburger meat you're going to buy at a grocery store," Pirtle said. "And our neighbors seem to love it. We've had no complaints."

Because low income families often struggle to afford high quality meat, and food pantries don't always have fresh beef, folks with the cattle ministry saw an easy fix. And while a fridge full of hamburger won't solve hunger in Denton County, it'll help.

"Anytime you go to the grocery store, the most expensive part of someone's grocery bill is going to be either fresh produce or fresh protein. So this was just kind of an idea of a way to serve those in need," Pirtle said.

Wide open spaces

Raising cattle for beef to feed the hungry sounds like a straightforward idea, but it's not like this ministry would work just anywhere. Cattle need space and experienced handlers. Pirtle sales that's the advantage of having farmers in the church flock, and a Denton address.

"Our church is in a unique position where we're kind of on the northern end of the metropolitan area. And so everything north of here, you start to see some open land," he said. "And so we can do what we do because of where God has uniquely situated us."

The ministry workers hope their herd continues to grow. Kim Clarke says they'd love to increase their output to 50,000 servings each year. 

"You're never going to run out of hungry people to feed, and you're never going to run out of people who need to hear about Jesus, and that's the two things we're trying to do."

Because Clarke says you can't go wrong when you mix ministry and meat.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.