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FACE-TO-FACE WITH MY THANKSGIVING TURKEY Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Mon, Nov 27, 2006, 12:19 PM
On a brisk November afternoon in a green, grassy pasture about 30 miles northeast of Dallas I met my Thanksgiving turkey-to-be.

Never before have I locked eyes with a future meal except maybe once when I was four. I snagged a fish in a pond not far from my Aunt Inez's house that I contributed to the family fish fry. But that's a stretch.

On The Farm
The day was bright as Robert Hutchins showed me around his beloved Rehoboth Ranch in Greenville, TX. In a previous life, Robert ranched part-time and worked full-time for a Dallas-area defense contractor. But six years ago he divested himself of the corporate job to ranch full-time and he's never looked back.

The worst day on the farm is better than the best day in the office, he said.

Robert called out to the turkeys as we approached the pasture and several carefully jaunted over to us appearing to wonder what the commotion was about on this cloudless afternoon.

It would be the luck of the draw as to which of these birds would find its ultimate resting place on my Thanksgiving dining table I thought as I gazed into several pairs of eyes and listened to their soft gobbles.



They may be in mourning, Robert said as some of the turkeys seemed reluctant to join us. One-third of the flock had been slaughtered in the past week, he explained, and because turkeys are very social birds the remaining flock missed them.

Robert raises all his animals according to organic principles although the ranch is not certified organic. Most importantly, his animals are pastured with an abundant access to all they grass they can bend their heads to consume.

It costs a lot of money to earn an organic certification, Robert said, and mostly that just means I’m giving my money to the government. It means more to me to be able to look you in the eye and know that you trust me than to have a government certification, he said.

And while most people like organically raised meat for its flavor, for Robert nutrition is the goal - taste is a side benefit. Animals are most nutritious when raised eating a natural diet in their God-designed habitat free of hormones and unnecessary antibiotics he explained.

As we continued our tour, I met Minnie Pearl - the nosy mule whose job it is to guard the goats, but who preferred to follow us around until she got locked out of one of the pastures. She tried her best to jiggle the gate open. Minnie is quite the escape artist as Robert has had to retrieve her more than once from the neighbor’s property.

The cows ran as we approached their pasture. Pastured here just a couple of days ago and enjoying fresh grass they don't want to leave Robert said.

A ruckus of clucks broke out as we approached the chicken pasture and a couple of them escaped through a hole in the fence and followed us as we strolled by.



One of the goats tried to take a nip out of my sweater.



The sheep cared the least about who I was or why I was there; not one lifted a head or sauntered over to check out the action.



Except for the occasional bark, cluck, gobble, moo, and bleat, the only other sound on the ranch besides our conversation was the crunch beneath our feet.

“Look at this,” Robert said as he toed the earth. “See these earthworm castings?”

I did see them, realized they were the source of the crunching underfoot, had seen them previous to my Rehoboth Ranch visit, but had never known they were deposited by earthworms. I felt like a total city slicker, but Robert didn't seem to notice.

“If you ever visit an organic ranch and you don’t see their pastures littered with earthworm castings - run,” he said. And then he explained that earthworm castings are a visible indicator of a healthy organic ranch.

The shadows were long as I drove away from Rehoboth Ranch that afternoon with a new appreciation for the animals that provide my sustenance and for men like Robert who raise them.




Thanksgiving Day  
A week after my visit to Rehoboth Ranch I picked up my turkey from the Dallas Farmers Market as scheduled.
 
Reactions from friends and family to my turkey farm visit ranged from mild repulsion, “ewwww” to slight surprise, “interesting,” with most playing on the idea that somehow I had executed a death warrant on some unsuspecting turkey.

Yeah, yeah, very funny; everyone’s a comedian.

But no one laughed and everyone thanked me on Thanksgiving afternoon as we dined on the juicy, tender, flavorful Rehoboth Ranch turkey.

What my family didn’t know and couldn’t taste in our Thanksgiving turkey was the nutritional benefit of Robert’s organically raised, free-range turkey.

Research has proven that meat from grass-fed animals is lower in fat and calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, a good fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and Vitamin E. If you think you're getting these benefits from the grain-fed meat you're buying at the grocery store, you have some learnin' to do.

People with high levels of omega-3 are less likely to have high blood pressure, suffer a heart attack, or struggle with depression just to name a few. According to recent research, CLA may be one of our most important defenses against cancer, and Vitamin E has been linked with lower instances of heart disease and cancer.

Commercial feed-lot raised, grain-fed animals have significantly less omega-3 and much higher levels of omega-6 which is an artery clogging fat. We need omega-6, but only in balance with omega-3.

Typically missing from most Americans' diet, omega-3 is abundant in the meat, milk, and eggs of pastured animals. Pastured animals gift us with these important fats and vitamins just by doing what comes naturally – eating grass.

This is proof positive that we are what we eat and that we can eat more healthy without giving up the meat and dairy products that we love.

It all begins with a single blade of grass.

And ranchers like Robert Hutchins who are willing to look me in the eye at the cash register, and in whom I sensed a reverence for the land and a respect for the animals that reached far beyond “this is how I make my living.”

And I appreciate that.
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