We at Hiland Naturals use Fertrell in our GMO-free livestock feed because we think it’s important to give your family the best nature has to offer, so you, in turn, can raise healthy food. We recently spoke with Jeff Mattocks, Vice President and Animal Nutrition Specialist at Fertrell, about the importance of healthy soil, healthy animals, and healthy people.
In the first part of our two-part interview with Jeff, we talk about how farming practices have changed and what we as farmers can do to keep up with the times in a scientific, yet natural way.
Hiland Naturals: Fertrell is dedicated to creating their products in an earth-friendly way. Why do you think animals should also be raised with earth-friendly practices?
Jeff Mattocks: It’s the natural way of doing things. Animals shouldn’t be confined in very small spaces with artificial light only without the opportunity to go out and look for a bug or eat some grass or chase each other around. It doesn’t make any sense to us to take an animal out of its (somewhat) natural environment. Give them an opportunity for fresh air, for sunlight, clean water, a better living environment. It’s just our total philosophy whether we’re talking about our soil products or our animals products.
HN: We definitely agree that raising animals in a natural way is important. However, Fertrell is also concerned with creating products to fulfill modern needs. What does it mean to use “better science” to create these earth-friendly “ products?
Jeff: We’ve bred the poultry or the livestock to perform at a much higher level than our ancestors were used to. For instance, back in the day if you had a cow that gave you 40 pounds of milk, she was a really good cow. Nowadays, you wouldn’t keep a cow that only gave you 40 pounds of milk. She would no longer fit into the herd in any scale. Now, if she doesn’t make at least 80 pounds of milk, she’s just not a keeper. We’ve done the same thing with chickens. Back in my grandfather’s day, you kept a chicken for twelve weeks before you butchered it. Now we’re down to five and a half or six weeks to get a fryer size chicken. None of this is done through GMOs or anything really weird, but it has been done through selective breeding and enhancing the environment that the birds live in. So we can’t feed the way our ancestors did and expect the animals, in general, to thrive.
We’ve got to increase the nutrient density to meet the demands of the production animals that we’re raising these days. By the same token, 100 years ago our grains had much more nutrient density to them than our modern-grown grains because we’ve done the same thing—we’ve made hybrids of those, we’ve done trait selection, and production selection to the point where, again, back in my grandfather’s day, 80 or 100 bushels per acre was an average corn yield. Now, the average corn yield is 150 to 200. We’ve doubled those numbers just in the last 60 years, but the nutrient density for those plants hasn’t increased with it. It’s actually gone backwards.
HN: Why is that?
Jeff: Well there’s only so many nutrients that the soil and the sun and the water can give to a plant, so in a given year—on an average year—there are only so many units of phosphorus that will be available, so many units of calcium coming out of the soil. Only so many units of nitrogen that the plant can assimilate out of the air or the ground. Before you would have that same number of nutrients going into that 80 or 100 bushels of corn; now you have that same number of nutrients going into that 150 to 200 bushels of corn, so the nutrients levels are going down.
HN: That is clearly going to continue to be a problem as the world’s population grows. According to Monsanto, the manufacturer of the wildly popular Herbicide Roundup, experts predict that planet earth will be home to 9 billion people by the year 2050, and we’ll need to produce double the amount of food we are currently producing. It seems like this problem could get much worse if we aren’t taking active towards adding nutrients back into the soil and the livestock to keep up with our consumption needs.
Jeff: There’s two significant thought processes to this whole thing. First, commercial agriculture looks at making as much as they can per acre. As long as we continue to do that and to outproduce the demand for the human populace on the planet, that will continue to make farmland available for housing development, for new houses to grow, for land to go toward uses other than farming. That’s the downside of big commercial agriculture, and they’re also trying to keep and hold the prices of our food commodities down, and that’s not necessarily a good thing because it’s contributed greatly to the obesity in the United States because our food system is that cheap. We spend the least amount of any nation in the world on food. The two go hand in hand. It’s crazy. Only about 17% of our income goes to food and everybody else is at 22% and 30%.
HN: I’ve never thought of it that way before! You’d think keeping food prices down would be a good thing because everyone can afford to eat, but when you think of it like that, maybe we’re eating a little too much, and not necessarily the nutrient-rich foods we should be eating. That puts things into perspective a little bit.
Jeff: We can afford to overeat. Therefore, we’re one of the most obese nations in the world. The two really do go hand in hand. If we thought more like Joel Salatin, like the sustainable ag movement, which says get your food more local, get it from a farmer who’s raising 500 or 1,000 chickens, someone who’s got that laying flock down the road of 200 birds or something like that. We can get back to a higher nutrient-density food by getting our food local and on a little bit smaller scale, just at a little bit of a higher price.
HN: Doesn’t seem like that’s such a bad thing!
Jeff: It’s really not. Do I really need $0.79 eggs at the store? I buy organic eggs and I get off size from the farmer, jumbo eggs for $2.50 a dozen—but they’re certified organic, so I’m getting a better nutrient density. I could eat six of the $0.79 a dozen eggs, but I’m more likely to eat only two or three at $2.50 a dozen.
HN: And those two or three will be much healthier for you if you do it that way as well!
Jeff: Absolutely. I’m not worried about any of the spray residues from the grain, or any of the genetically modified constituents passing through in the egg. It’s definitely going to be a better food source for me.
HN: I noticed that Fertrell is actually a blended word made from fertilizer, minerals, and elements. (That’s not the company’s original name.) Why are these three things so important when it comes to animal feed.
Jeff: Well, it’s important for everything. Fertrell was started out as a fertilizer company. We knew that proper fertilization, adding the right trace elements to the soil, we got that more nutrient dense, more satisfying food. Then in the 70s, when we started making animal nutrition, we used the same philosophy that if we actually give the animal all that they need—in the right proportions—they would be healthier. It’s a trickle down effect. If the soil is healthy, the plant’s healthy; if the plant’s healthy, then the animal is healthy; if the plant and the animal are healthy, then the humans consuming them will be healthy as well. It’s always been the philosophy that we’ve ridden on for the past 69 years.
We had so much to discuss with Jeff! Learn about his take on organic food and his advice for backyard farmers in part two of this series. For more information from Jeff and from Fertrell, visit Fertrell.com.