Hilda Perkins, Happy Farms Meats
Hilda Perkins, owner of Happy Farms
Competing in a man's world
Alumna Hilda Perkins (BS '77, PhD '91) is making her way in a business that most people would consider a man’s world. Perkins owns and operates Happy Farms, a small cattle ranch in Clarksville, Texas, with her sister, Carrie.
At 61, Perkins lives off the grid, tending 100 head of beef cattle and 150 pigs on 1,000 acres in northeast Texas. The retired teacher and day-care owner describes herself as a country girl at heart and comfortable in her work clothes of cowboy boots and blue jeans.
Perkins produces naturally raised meat for sale to restaurants, grocers and households. She sells to vendors and buyers who want quality, country-grown meat free of artificial growth hormones. Her beef cattle are mixed breeds, including Angus and Charolais, and her marketing message is clear: “I want you to buy my meat.”
Perkin’s biggest challenges are finding vendors and cooperative processors who will provide consistent quality and quantity in processing her meat. She has learned that some men in the business aren’t ready to accept a woman in the field. At times, she feels like a pioneer.
“It’s difficult to get started in this business as a woman,” she says.
On a routine day, Perkins rises early at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and, after breakfast, gets on her tractor to feed, provide hay and water for the livestock, check fences and clear any snakes from the hen house. During calving season, she has to protect the newborns from blackbirds that peck at their eyes. Her long day ends at 11 p.m., midnight or even later. Typically, there’s no time for days off.
“Rain, sleet, snow, the animals have to be fed. We’re on this farm seven days a week. I do work hard, but it’s my choice. It’s difficult, physical, manual labor, and I love to do it. We’re just trying to be the best we can be,” she says.
In a pilot project, Perkins is raising garden vegetables, tomatoes and greens for potential sale, and she’s considering growing corn for animal feed.
Always a country girl
Perkins lives out her philosophy every day on the Happy Farms ranch: “Women can be whoever they want to be.” With a teaching background supported by bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, she’s a strong advocate for women.
Perkins is the product of a multicultural, biracial family and was one of the first African-American children to attend an all-white school in her community. It wasn’t easy. She credits her father for instilling in her a competitive spirit by encouraging her to get a university degree and telling her she could do whatever she wanted in life.
“My dad was different. He wanted me to try for the moon,” she says.
At TWU she earned a BS in home and family sciences in 1977 and a PhD in early childhood development in 1991 when she was 35. She chose TWU because she believed it would give her the opportunity to be a positive thinker and an independent entrepreneur. She also has a master’s degree in education from Texas A&M.
Perkins appreciated all her TWU education courses and enjoyed teaching in and developing good schools where children could learn. She taught in the Dallas Independent School District for years, but the ranch was never far from her thoughts or work ethic. To help maintain the place, she did chores there in the summer, on holidays and weekends.
It was while working with school children that Perkins noticed a potential connection between the early onset of puberty in little girls and what they were eating. “Their bodies were developing before they should,” she says.
Perkins speculated the children may have been eating too many hormones in their food, so, after retirement, she decided to get serious about producing beef and pork without artificial growth hormones or additives.
Now it’s her life. “I love it out here. I will die doing this,” she says.