VIRGINIA BEACH — What started out as a 4-H project has turned into a full-time career for Navy veteran Nathan Reeve.
Reeve is the owner of Pungo-Tuck Local Beef Co., a 9-acre cattle business that focuses on the humane treatment of livestock and embraces hyper-local products and practices.
The enterprise began in 2014, when he and his daughter raised a steer through the Virginia Beach Livestock Club.
At the time, Reeve knew nothing about raising cattle, but with advice and encouragement from other 4-H members, he found he had a knack for it.
“The steer was set for the market, but I ended up buying it just to see how the fruits of our labor matched up,” Reeve said. “The meat was better than what could be found in the store.”
In 2015, Reeve raised a second steer with the same outcome. Today, he’s raising 19.
Reeve credits the success to his upbringing strategy.
“We grow humanely raised beef without hormones and antibiotics,” he said. “Our cattle live on pasture and get to roam. We don’t really stress them. That’s the difference.”
According to Reeve, when cattle are stressed, their hormones can alter the flavor of the meat.
This is something staff take very seriously, Reeve said, noting the farm subscribes to practices encouraged by Temple Grandin, a renowned autism spokesperson and expert on livestock behavior.
“Cattle are not pets, but many of them liked to be touched. They are used to us,” he said. “If I thought of the cattle simple as money-makers it wouldn’t fit with the humane process.”
The cattle also eat better than those living on commercial farms, said farmhand Matt Chiaradia, who also serves as a volunteer EMS.
“The grain doesn’t have any kind of filler or antibiotics, which are typically used to promote weight gain,” he said.
“There’s nothing in there that you couldn’t eat,” Reeve continued. “It takes about seven pounds of feed to develop one pound of beef. This is an expensive way to do it, which is why the meat costs a little more.”
Reeve said he aims for each steer to consume 30 pounds of feed each day, which helps them grow by about 25 pounds per week.
When the cattle hit between 1,300 and 1,400 pounds, they are ready for processing, he said.
Currently, Pungo-Tuck sells and delivers cattle by the half-size, but starting in March, customers may purchase different cuts of meat from the farm’s website, Reeve said.
Reeve said he also plans to give tours of the farm to interested customers.
“I think people should know where their food really comes from,” he said. “We suggest people come by to see how their food is raised. We don’t have anything to hide here.”
Through his farm, Reeve said he hopes to promote hyper-local spending among Virginia Beach residents — at prices that are competitive with local food retailers.
“When you go to a restaurant and they say local beef, it could still have come from as far out as Pennsylvania,” he said. “So that’s our thing. We are unquestionably local. We’re just a few miles away.”