Our Beef

22 November 2016

How the animal lived

We have a closed herd which means we breed rather than buy in animals. The one exception to this rule is the occasional purchase of a new stock bull.

So we have a herd of breeding cows that run with the bull. We also use artificial insemination where appropriate to avoid inbreeding and to add diversity to our genetics.

Each breeding cow has a calf every year typically in March or April. This calf suckles its mother for 6-8 months at this point it is gently weaned using a low stress method called “fence line weaning”. At six months old and a number of weeks prior to weaning the bull calves are castrated, they are now called bullocks. The female calves are called heifers. The tradition breeds we use are very fertile and some heifers begin cycling from six months so we try to wean them first and move them from the main herd so that they do not become pregnant too young.

All the cattle graze fresh grass every day from mid-April until late-Nov at which point they are housed for the winter. This happens for a number of reasons. In our climate grass becomes dormant and stops growing in winter so at some point the cattle run out of grass to eat. The ground conditions can become vulnerable to soil damage with excessive moisture especially at there is no grass growth to protect it. There can be other issues such as lack of shelter for animals also.

During the winter housing period the cattle have a bed of straw or wood chip and they feed on hay (dried grass) or silage (fermented grass). This is harvested in the summer when grass is abundant and saved for feeding during the winter months. Because the animals being fed in winter rather than selecting their own forage they cannot self-medicate with plants from hedge rows or select for plants to boost vitamin and minerals during the winter, their diet is supplemented with adlib ground seaweed to ensure the animal are getting all the trace minerals they need to stay healthy.

The following grazing season the calves from the previous year are referred to as yearlings. Because the heifers are still too young to become pregnant they must be kept in a separate herd from the bull. The bullocks run with the main herd of breeding cows. At this point we start to choose which heifers that might be considered for breeding purposes and which will fatten well for meat. Any animal of poor quality or which does not show promise to fatten well on grass will be sold. Similarly we choose which bullocks are not suited to produce the finest meat and these are also sold.

The animals that are kept spend the grazing season leisurely grazing our species rich pastures. The farm is divided up into fields and these fields are divided up into paddocks using temporary electric fencing. We move the herds daily to a new paddock of fresh grass. There can be up to sixty paddocks, so the grass has a long time to grow and recover before it is grazed again. The cattle always have fresh healthy grass to graze and are not grazing around where they have dirtied.

The cattle are housed again for a second winter and the following grazing season they are primed for finishing. Some animals fatten quickly and some are slower to mature. I use this to my advantage as I can have animals finishing from late spring through to late autumn.

A finished animal has grown to a suitable size and has a good covering of fat. We aim to have our animals finished at about 600kg.

How the beef is prepared.

There are many elements to be considered at this stage that can make the difference between turning your animal in ordinary beef and something special. We have gone to great trouble in finding a fantastic small abattoir that understands these elements and carefully treats the animals we have cared for with all the respect they deserve.

The animal is delivered to the abattoir the evening before. It is rested over-night to give it time to relax after the stress of the journey.

In the morning the animal is walked gently into the chute it passes through a screen and is dispatched quickly with a captive bolt gun.

Here begins the production line. The carcass is slung up by the back legs and bled out, after which the head, hooves, hide and innards are skilfully removed. The carcass is washed and allowed cool to room temperature before being moved to the cold-room where it will hang dry aging for twenty one days.

This tenderises the meat and intensifies the depth of flavour. (Supermarkets generally avoid this step because it can reduce the weight by up to 20kg through moisture evaporation hence reducing profit!)

After hanging the carcass is then broken down into joints and butchered into the cuts we are all familiar with. Most of the heavy bones are removed and cuts are trimmed of excess fat and sinews. This leaves about 200Kg of saleable meat.

The butcher masterfully divides this 200Kg into ten even 20kg boxes ready for delivery to your freezer!