I'm nervous and excited this week, I’ve got a new meat project on the go.
100% biodynamic purely milk fed veal, a seasonal product.
Every week when I take my lambs to the local abattoir I see Friesian and Jersey *bobby calves in the 100’s. These 5 day old calves and through no fault of the abattoir or dairy farmer, are usually cold, wet, stressed, and hungry.
They are a bi product of our dairy industry and come from dairy cows. I want to try to change the outcome for a small percentage of these calves.
Milk comes from cows, cows need to calve to generate the hormones to produce milk. Cows are fertilised, often with semen straws, and calve 9 months later. There is a period of colustrum rich milk, very much like a human, milk then changes composition after 3 days and becomes the milk we know, give or take **homogenisation and ***pasteurisation.
Milk can also be altered to make products such as, cheese, butter, cream, yoghurt, ice-cream and gee.
A bi product of this process is calves. Of course calves are born either male or female, in ratios depending usually on chance, weather, parents condition or ****sexed semen. A female calf, heifer, is very valuable (approx $500) either for herd replacement or the local/export dairy market. A male calf, bull, is not valuable (usually $1 a kg, approx 30kg live). These bull calves are required by law to stay on the farm they were born for 5 days. They are fed and housed then transported by calf dealers to the abattoir to be mostly processed for protein pulp for use in small goods and low quality meat products.
At 5 days old a calf has no herding instinct, they are hard to transport and manage on the ground.
In my opinion this is
- waste of potential, Australia needs all and every high quality protein it can produce.
- ethically wrong, bull calves are a nuscience in the industry, labor intensive, undervalued, they have no quality of life.
- risky, being product of such little value the bull calves are usually fed milk that has a high level of antibiotics, *****blue milk, usually just to keep some tummies full and some strength in the calf.
What Can I Do?
As many of you know I am in the lucky position of having a face to face relationship with the end consumer of my lamb products. Through farmer's markets that I attend I’ve begun to understand customer wants and needs. This connection is enormously valuable to me. I can provide another meat product that is ******nutritionally high, flavoursome and tender. If we can do this by using ethical farming practices, incorporating low stress stock handling, treating the animal with respect and educating consumers on the value, nutrition and quality of well farmed meat, fantastic!
How can I do it?
In my search for dairy farmers who could help me I came across Mark and Lynne Peterson. This couple and their family have an incredibly impressive biodynamic dairy farm and herd outside Nathalia Vic, not far from me or the abattoir. Mark, being a long term biodynamic farmer has a holistic approach to his business. He has not only his working herd to think of but also his "cast for age" cows and bull calf portion. This is where I come in.
Use of drugs also play a part in this, but I’ll let Mark tell you a little about why and what he does and what we're doing together!
“We have operated our dairy farm under the Demeter Bio Dynamic method since 1987, selling our milk under the Demeter label for the last 6 years.
We have gained a reputation for producing some of the best quality milk in the country. Demeter milk is not for sale in the big supermarkets, we have given preference to small
Health food and fruit shops. Specialty coffee shops and cafés regard our Demeter milk as making the best milk coffees, We sell about 1/3 of our milk to coffee outlets like St Ali and Jasper around Melbourne.
As Anna has mentioned the male or Bobby calves have become a moral issue for us. We need a cow to calve to produce milk, we keep all the females as future herd replacements but we have little demand for these male calves at any age.
It costs us about $1500 to rear a calf to 2 years of age, if we sell that animal to a butcher he might give us $600, give or take $100 depending on seasonal conditions at the time. We may get an extra $100-$200 on top of that if we can find an organic buyer.
These animals were bred for milk production not meat so they don't produce the same class of meat as a beef cow.
So to loose $750 per animal is not sustainable for an business ( we have about 80/ year.)
This season we have kept every calf. We have housed and nurtured these bobby calves just as well as we have looked after the heifer calves. The first few will go to the butcher this week at about 6 week old, I know it's still young, but they have had an extra 5 weeks of life and they will travel as much stronger and fitter calves.
As we calve over a 2 month period twice a year we hope to stagger the the calves to a few every week or two so some will be up to a couple of months old.
We need your support to make this work and give these calve a better quality of life than being culled at 5 days old.
We do not feed antibiotic milk to any of our calves, just colostrum and transition milk ( that's the milk between colostrum and fresh milk, the first 8 milkings after calving.)
Anna and I will try to keep the price fair, but at this early stage there a many variables we just don't know. We think the bigger calves will produce better and more, but that extra milk will add to the cost. So the bigger the calf the more expensive they may become.
If you would like to know more about us have a look at Alcheringa Bio- Dynamic farm on Facebook"
When can I do it?
Mark and I are taking calves in this week, I’ll use the same process I do with my sheep, small loads in the back of my ute late in the day. Rubber mats to stop slipping and this time I’ll cover the sides of the stock crate with canvas. The abattoir is being very supportive in this trial and that in itself is exciting. I’ll also follow similar steps as I do with my sheep, no loud noises, no dogs. I’ll use movement of my body, eye contact and a rocking motion to push calves forward. Skills Iearnt at the low stress stock handling school I attended a couple of years ago. Bodies will then be delivered to the butcher and we’ll play around with some cuts and send some samples off to a few chef mates for comment. If you're a chef and you're interested email now
What can you do?
EAT VEAL! You have a world of information at your fingertips, look for recipes, try the veal, drop by Books for Cooks, have an excuse to buy more cookbooks, cook it up invite your friends over, let me know what you think. It’s ok if you don’t like veal, I don’t like lambs liver but I treat it with respect and find a good home for it, a chef who appreciates it and the nose to tail ethos behind Plains Paddock. We may well find that the veal needs to be grown out to be older as my friends Suzanne and Steve did.
15 seconds in an elevator.
Who am I to dictate the length of life for a calf, how can I kill babies for meat? I am just a meat eating farmer who loves animals and I want to turn this waste product into something of value, for farmers and consumers. In doing that I want to give these calves a quality of life, even though it's short, its better than the alternative in my opinion. I have to work out the complicated equation of costs, qualities, quantities and outcome.
* Bobby calf, a newborn calf from a dairy cow or heifer, not with its mother.
** Homogenisation, blended milk product, consistent throughout
*** Pasteurisation, heat treated to kill bacteria
**** Sexed semen, isn’t science wonderful? Semen can be treated with dye and an electric pulse that causes female sperm to fail. It’s expensive and harder to get cows into calf. Waqyu semen is also used on heifers, 1st time mothers, creating a smaller F1 wagyu calf and easier calving, It’s big business for big business in Australia.
***** Blue milk, derived from cows treated for mastitis or other illnesses, mastitis is a bacterial infection that can be common in conventional dairy herds. This milk is unfit for human consumption, not for calf consumption. Conventional dairy farmers get 45c a ltr, for healthy milk.
******Nutritionally, so far my research tells me veal is as nutritious as beef but with less fat and iron.