Cattle company gets back to basics
It started with an article.
“Power Steer” by Michael Pollan chronicled the journey of a steer from birth until the steer arrived as a box of steaks at Pollan’s home.
That article inspired Todd Churchill to start Thousand Hills Cattle Co., a grass-fed beef ranch in Cannon Falls.
“We’re waking up to this idea that food matters,” he said.
After reading the article, Churchill said he decided to try grass-fed beef and bought two different brands. The first he tried was amazing, he said, and he wrote an extensive business plan for raising grass-fed beef. After eating the second – which didn’t live up to the first – he threw the whole plan away.
The plan was simplified and Churchill said he wondered what needed to be done from the moment of conception all the way through to the food being on the plate to produce an incredible eating experience.
He focused on producing beef that was nourishing and satisfying so it fulfilled people emotionally.
The eating experience is emotional, he said, and that is what keeps people coming back for more.
“Our bodies are designed to know what healthy fats are,” Churchill said, adding the fact that his beef is grass-fed isn’t what drives the business.
Churchill believes in showing people the process of his business and offers tours that provide people an opportunity to see everything from the cattle grazing in the field to the cattle being butchered and prepared for the store shelves.
Churchill grew up on a farm in Illinois and greeted a recent crowd at his warehouse in Cannon Falls wearing a cowboy hat, blue jeans and cowboy boots. Ever since he was a child, he said, he’s worn blue jeans and boots everywhere he went, even during the hot, muggy Illinois summers.
After answering questions from a group of people curious about the grass-fed process from as far as Iowa and Illinois, as well as Minnesota, and talking about the beginnings of Thousand Hills, Churchill moved the group to Lorentz Meats, where the meat is processed.
Lorentz Meats, which is USDA inspected, certified organic and permitted for export to the European Union, is in its fourth decade of business. Ed and Mary Lorentz started the firm in the late 1960s.
Churchill said the process — which can be observed through windows which leave nothing to the imagination — at Lorentz is not assembly-line driven, which results in a much better finished product.
All of the products for Thousand Hills are tested to make sure there are no issues, Churchill said.
“We have a very rigorous testing program,” he said.
As he walked through his field, with about 30 cattle grazing, Churchill talked about how the land is used at his farm.
He said he uses a method called rotational grazing and moves the herd with regularity so the cattle aren’t eating the regrowth in the fields. This method allows for the same area of land to be grazed four to five times each year.
The entire beef cowherd in the United States could be raised in an area the size of the state of Nebraska using this method, Churchill said, adding the key to this method of grazing is the rest period.
Churchill doesn’t use any antibiotics when raising his cattle. He said an animal that would have died without the use of antibiotics has a compromised immune system, which ultimately would detract from the final product.
“I don’t want cattle that have been sick,” he said, adding if one of the cattle is sick, he probably did something wrong.
Churchill has purchased around 500 calves in the last seven years, he said, and he hasn’t had to treat any of them.
Thousand Hills Cattle Co. currently sells its products across the nation and can be found at local retailer such as River Bend Market Co-op and Simple Abundance in Red Wing, Hope’s Harvest Natural Foods and Deli in Lake City, and Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls.
A full list of retailers can be found at thousandhillscattleco.com.