Thursday, May 28, 2009
You might wonder of all the kinds of meat to sell why we're raising veal calves. Although once fairly common in Western cuisine, veal is an oddity -- and an especially high-priced one at that -- in North Carolina kitchens today. Moreover, veal is perhaps more closely associated with the abuses of factory farming than any other meat. That's a shame, but so is most of modern, industrialized agriculture. What we suspect a lot of people fail to realize is that what's sensible and economical for a small, low-tech farm like ours often varies drastically from what's most profitable for large factory farms. Chicken, for instance, is the cheapest meat to produce when chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, artificial stimulants, confinement "houses", genetically modified crops, etc. are plentiful; on a small farm, following organic principles, chicken is an especially challenging meat to produce for market, especially in quantities comparable to the amount of veal we can raise. Of course, veal is the same animal as beef, so you might ask why we don't just raise all our calves out as beef. The trouble with beef is that it takes well over a year, often closer to two years, to finish a beef steer. That's problematic because high quality, tender meat depends on a good rate of growth and therefore on nutritionally high quality feed, and the nutritional quality of pastures generally goes way up and down over the course of a year. Factory farms don't worry about the seasonality of grass, because they feed cattle mostly on grain. Grain certainly makes tender meat, but it would be a ridiculously expensive way to feed cattle apart from chemically intensive Midwestern mega-farms. The nice thing about veal is that the cow maintains a top quality feed supply (milk) for the calf, and because it only takes a few months to raise a veal calf, we can raise more calves when the grass is rich and milk is plentiful and fewer calves or no calves at all when the grass is poor and milk production drops. In other words, veal allows us to raise high quality meat in a cost-effective, seasonal way. If you consider other grass-eating animals that are raised for meat, the meat of the young, milk-fed animal is traditionally considered far superior to that of the mature animal (e.g. lamb vs. mutton.) And in comparison to beef, veal remains a gourmet, specialty item. A different logic applies to small, low-tech farms like ours, however, and so we can offer veal at least as affordably as comparable beef. If the logic of organic principles, of small, local, low-tech farms makes sense to you, too, then we encourage you to try veal. Pasture raised veal fed real mama's milk is a small farm delicacy worth enjoying.