Case Studies

Linda and Jimmy Baird – The Little Kentucky Smokehouse

Kentucky couple blends tradition and technology for tasty results

Odds are good you’ve never had to pass through Uniontown, Kentucky, a town of about 1,000 people on the Ohio River.

However, odds are much better that you’ve eaten something from Uniontown, the home of Little Kentucky Smokehouse and its affiliated companies Union County Livestock, better known as Jim David Meats and Mid-South Sales.

Owned by husband and wife Jimmy and Linda Baird, the companies produce hams, barbecue products, breakfast sausage and salads, including chicken, ham, and pimento cheese made from time-honored and tested recipes to retailers throughout the U.S., including the HEB, Kroger, and Hannaford’s grocery chains as well as Walmart.

The company is headquartered on a 220-acre farm that’s been in Linda’s family for generations. The recipe for the chicken salad came from her grandmother, and Jimmy and one of their sons, Justin, continue to farm on the land. Their older son Brandon works in purchasing operations at the plants.

“We had very humble beginnings and could never have dreamed this company would become what it is today,” Linda says. “We credit God, the team effort of all of our employees and the relationships we’ve been able to develop with our valued customers. Our growth depends on our customers’ business.”

Building on success

Founded in 1987 and owned by Jimmy Baird and his brother-in-law, David Simmons, Union County Livestock Inc., was one of Kentucky’s largest pork producers. In 1991 the duo purchased a small meat processing plant. It relocated its operations to the family farm, adding Jim David Meats to the company name as they began delivering pork products to stores within a 50-mile radius of the farm, including in Indiana and Illinois and the Bluegrass State.

At the time, the pork products excluded hams, but that was not for long. The Bairds began hand-smoking them with hickory, oak and applewood chips and Little Kentucky Smokehouse was born. The company sold about 10 million pounds of hams in its first year. The company currently produces as many as 30,000 half-hams daily, Jimmy says.

Though the company no longer processes hogs onsite, the hams expanded their sales with private label brands such as Hannaford’s Taste of Inspirations, Meijer’s Frederiks and Food Lion brands.

“Each ham is like a fingerprint because they’re hand-done,” Linda says. “We don’t use liquid smoke, only real wood chips to ensure the smoke flavor is throughout the ham.”

She says it took about a decade of trying to get Walmart interested in the chicken salad. The chicken is cooked and shredded onsite, and the mix with grapes and celery proved such a hit that the company currently produces 1.2 million containers per week. The company also produces rotisserie, cranberry with pecans and a southern chicken salad.

The chicken salad is also available in 32-ounce containers and four-packs of 3 ounces each, and Linda says customers recommended the additional sizes. Though the Bairds were concerned that adding sizes would decrease the 12-ounce sales, doing so helped them  increase their customer base and sales.

Little Kentucky Smokehouse and the Bairds’ affiliated companies currently employ about 260 people. Linda owns 51 percent of Mid-South Sales, qualifying it as a women-owned business as part of Walmart’s supplier inclusion program.

Tradition and automation

The Bairds are rooted in home and family as they produce their hams, salads and other products, but the companies operate in modern facilities of about 450,000 square feet, including packaging, warehouse and office areas.

The company also makes about half of the containers for the salads using polypropylene molding machines it owns in a partnership with a local business and relies on Packaging Corporation of America to supply its corrugated packing boxes.

Working with Packline USA, the company recently completed a new round of automation as they expanded facilities, too. Jimmy says it was a three-year process as items including scales, conveyors and packaging equipment were added. The automated packaging system has enabled the company to package as many as 70 hams per minute, an increase from 16 per minute.

For nearly 20 years, Little Kentucky Smokehouse has used a pasteurization system for its hams and salads to avoid using preservatives. The pasteurized hams and salads have a shelf life of 75 days, Jimmy says.

“We haven’t found another chicken salad with the same quality and shelf life as ours,” he adds.

The food and production safety efforts made at the companies exceed U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. And the raw and cooked food production areas are completely separated and pasteurized products are inspected by X-rays before they’re shipped.

Little Kentucky Smokehouse and its affiliated companies’ ability to keep producing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been crucial to its expansion.

“We actually gained a great respect from our customers during this difficult time.  We never shorted an order during the pandemic,” Jimmy says.

Always a touch of home

The Bairds operate one of the largest companies in the Union County area but say their success and recent expansion are attributed to their focus on customers nationwide. Together, they handle all the sales Jimmy designs the facilities and equipment.

The couple also attributes their success to their community. For instance, they’ve had a relationship with their first loan officer, Gwen Paris, from when Jimmy and David Simmons borrowed money to start raising hogs in the late 1970s. Paris is now president of United Community Bank of West Kentucky.

Each year since Little Kentucky Smokehouse was founded, the company has donated hams to 10 local schools monthly, relying on the schools to select needy families.

Jimmy and Linda, who just celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary, were born in the same hospital, two days apart. For nearly 20 years, as their businesses grew, they lived in a mobile home on the farm, where corn and soybeans are the main crops.

They both are active parishioners at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Uniontown and serve on the parish council, host women’s retreats and volunteer for various parish events.

As Little Kentucky Smokehouse grows, the Bairds have also introduced nitrite-free hams at customers’ request.

“Our goal is to maintain our high quality during our company growth,” Jimmy says. “We’re doing that in a time-honored way, the way we were taught to do it, and we’re creating the best quality product for the consumer.”

View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol. III 2023 Edition here.

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