Passion, hard work build legacy of family-owned Missouri beef business

Thursday, November 3, 2011 | 8:58 p.m. CDT; updated 10:51 p.m. CDT, Thursday, November 3, 2011
Mark Mahnken keeps 200 head of cattle on his ranch in Salisbury. The beef cows are kept in pens during the winter and will be returned to the pastures when the grass starts to grow in spring.


SALISBURY, Mo. — If you are looking for someone who knows his beef well, look no further. The man with all the answers is Mark Mahnken, founder of Missouri Legacy Beef.

After all, the 58-year-old is no stranger to the beef business. His grandfather started cattle farming more than a hundred years ago, and that skill set has been kept alive in the family ever since. He is a third-generation rancher with more than 30 years of experience.

“There is a legacy here,” he said.

“I actually went back to study some of the techniques that my grandfather used in producing beef, which were passed down to my father,” he said. Mahnken thinks revisiting these traditional production methods has allowed him to develop a formula to produce the “best beef there is.”

Besides overseeing ranch operations, he also markets and delivers his products personally.

“In the summer, during the week, we’ll visit as many as three or four farmers markets,” said Mahnken, who is always there in his signature white shirt and red apron, completed by his cowboy hat.

Susie, his wife and their youngest of four sons, Miles, also work alongside him at the markets, which he sees as good family-bonding time. To Mahnken, this is one of the many benefits of having a family business.

“It is in our blood and something the Mahnken family has done for a long time,” he explained.

Mahnken had not always aspired to take over his father’s farm, which was started in 1949 in Salisbury. Having graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1975, Mahnken spent six years pursuing a career as a sales engineer.

But it was during that period that he realized his job required him to travel too much, and that was not ideal for his family life.

“I wanted to have a family, and so I thought the farm was a very good place to raise a family,” he said.

At the same time, he also saw business opportunities to improve the family operation. So, he decided to move back to the ranch in 1981. Now, his sons have also come aboard to help out in one way or another. But Mahnken insists that it was never an obligation to do so.

“I think it is important that they pursue their dreams,” he said. “And if some day those dreams involve coming back to the ranch, the door is open.”

This was the case when Mahnken first approached his third son, Blake, in April to take over as ranch manager after the previous manager resigned. Blake had initially declined the offer but later reconsidered his decision after learning no replacement could be found. He then went on to take over the ranch operations in May.

“I wanted to help our family business; I didn’t want it to go under,” Blake Mahnken said. “I’m so proud and happy that my parents have a family business, a legacy that they can pass on to me.”

Blake Mahnken also sees his father as a role model for being such a hard worker despite his age.

“I’m really proud of him, and I know (the business) is going to take off, and I want to be there when that happens,” Blake Mahnken said.

Mark Mahnken, however, sees this success as a labor of enthusiasm.

“What is most important in life is that you pursue your passion. If you do, you would never work a day of your life,” he said. “I enjoy my passion — beef.”

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