At Hiland Naturals, we seek to inspire farmers to do better, to raise their animals in a way that is healthy for both animal and human alike. Sometimes, however, other people inspire us. A person that inspires us is one of our favorite customers, Robert Hutchins and family of Rehoboth Ranch in Greenville, Texas.
We recently sat down to talk with Mr. Hutchins about his farm and about his family to learn why he likes us so much, and he shared a story with us that we weren’t quite prepared for.
A number of years ago while GMOs were gaining solid ground, Robert wasn’t sold on the idea, so he conducted an experiment on his own. He raised a group of chickens on regular ol’ GMO feed and a group on Hiland Naturals feed to see what would happen. The results were somewhat impressive.
According to Robert, although the results were “purely anecdotal”, the internal organs of the chicken raised on Hiland Natural’s feed were all but perfect, and he’s never looked back.
Today, Robert and his family raise grass-fed beef and Hiland Naturals fed chicken and pork, which they sell to discerning locals in their own community. Robert had a great deal of insight to share, so we’d like to share it with you as well!
HN: What are the health benefits of grass-fed meat?
Robert: We started off this whole journey saying we had “lean and clean” meat because it was grass fed. Twenty years ago any meat that didn’t have an off flavor that was 100% grass fed was acceptable. The industry has come a long way since then. Although it is naturally lean, it isn’t the leanest that gives you the nutritional advantage because the fat is healthy for you too. So for the last 15 years, we’ve been focused on producing higher quality grass-fed meats so it has a respectable amount of marbling in it so we have the forest-quality and the genetics and the grazing management we need to produce meat that is not only nutritionally superior, but also has a superior flavor.
There’s plenty of literature out there; I recommend Jo Robinson’s website EatWild.com. It has the nutritional benefits, health benefits, environmental benefits.
What it boils down to is that you have not created a natural balance between the Omega 3’s and 6’s―the essential fatty acids. They’re in the proper balance when animals eat only their natural diet. For ruminant animals that’s grass and forage alone―never grain. Our customers are shocked when they find out that more antacids are consumed by cattle in feedlots than by people. Of all the antacids manufactured in this country, more go to feedlots than go to people because cattle live with perpetual upset stomach when they live on feedlots eating a high-grain, high-calorie, unnatural diet.
I think it resonates with our customer’s common sense. We keep our animals in their natural environment, and we make sure that they eat only their natural diet. We try to keep them in an environment that’s as low-stress as possible, and that produces tender meat. Even conventional university studies show that raising them in a low-stress environment, not in confinement, not in feedlots, not in houses, but in a low-stress environment produces tender meat.
Those are the kind of principles by which we raise our meat.
HN: It looks like your farm is quite the family affair!
Robert: It was just as important to have an opportunity to work with my family as it was to make a living when I left my regular paying job 15 years ago. I don’t have to leave early every morning and come home late every night. I get to work with my family and give all the children the opportunity to have real responsibilities, real cause and effect relationships they can see, an understanding of the importance of what they are doing, and a chance to affect the family’s wellbeing. All the children have gone through the “vocational training” here. I haven’t produced any full time farmers yet, and that’s fine! I wasn’t a full time farmer until I turned 46 years old. Everybody has learned good character qualities, a good work ethic, how to deal with people by direct selling at the farmer’s market, and the importance of diligence and hard work. I’d even say that raising children the right way—with these characteristics—is more important than having a successful farm. (Although we get a lot of positive feedback from our customers who are appreciative of what we do!) They really feel like they are doing something worthwhile.
HN: So what are your thoughts on purchasing local?
Robert: I just believe that most agriculture should be local or regional. We’ve got ourselves stuck in a paradigm of industrial agriculture which values shelf life, ability to ship, cosmetic appearance, and has forgotten about eating seasonally. There’s a lot of damage being done with the industrial AG model.
With local you don’t have fossil fuels being expended for shipping, you don’t have the environmental degradation of large feeding operations, we aren’t producing cheap food that’s harmful for people’s health and in such a large scale that it’s harmful for the animals too. There are a lot of penalties that you pay when you get away from small scale, sustainable agriculture to large scale industrial agriculture.
We’re not so naive to think that we are going to retrain everyone to eat seasonally, but we certainly remind them. We have eggs and beef now because it’s egg and beef season. Next winter, I’ll be telling people to eat chicken and pork. Forget about the eggs! Eat oatmeal for breakfast. A few people catch on to that, but not everybody, because it’s so convenient to head down to the grocery store and buy inexpensive food.
When you buy from the grocery store produced by industrial AG, you’re ignoring the bigger cost. You’re ignoring the cost of agricultural subsidies to grow cheap grain. You’re ignoring the environmental damage associated with the shipping. You’re ignoring the pollution associated with industrial AG. You’re ignoring the health cost, the penalty that people pay for eating unhealthy food decade after decade. You’re ignoring the moral costs associated with the mistreatment of animals. If you counted up all of the extra costs associated with eating meat from the grocery store, ours would probably cost less.
HN: You have some great recipes on RehobothRanch.com. What’s your favorite one?
Robert: When we first got started raising grass-fed beef, we would sell sides of beef and whole beef to people, and they would put them in their freezers. We discovered very quickly that people had forgotten how to cook meat. A lady called me up after they had cooked a side of beef and she said “I cooked this roast, but it was tough” and I said “Well, what did you do with it?”
She said, “I put it in the oven on 350 and cooked it for a couple hours.”
I said, “Oh no. Was it covered?”
“Did you have moisture in it?”
She said, “Your meat’s tough.”
And I said, “No, it’s not tough.”
We decided to email her a recipe for Sunday pot roast. She used the recipe for next Sunday’s dinner and it was a success. The light bulb went off for me and we decided to put out some recipes with our meat.
My favorite recipe that we’ve published is in the lamb section for leg of lamb called, “Extremely Slow Roasted Leg Of Lamb” or “Melt In Your Mouth Leg Of Lamb”. Now leg of lamb is great when you cook it conventionally, but when you cook it with this extremely slow roasted recipe you encrust it in salt and pepper and garlic and rosemary and leave it in the oven overnight and put it in the oven the next day, cook it for hours and hours, and when it’s done internally, it looks like prime rib. Crusty on the outside, pink on the inside. It’s so tender you can cut it with a fork, and boy is it good!