We thought a comparison of the life of our cows against a typical life of a cow destined for the supermarket shelves would be interesting.
Once a calf is born it stays with its mother for several months, suckling her milk and eventually testing its appetite for grass. They remain in the herd, with all mothers and calves running together, on grass pastures in the summer and on straw beds in the winter.
At about 9 months old, they are completely weaned from their mothers and then run in a herd with all their mates until being dispatched at 2 years old.
One farm, just milk and then grass. No grains, no rush.
The Supermarket System:
The essence of this system is speed. Speed of growth to the required slaughter weight essentially.
Once a calf is born and weakened, it is likely to be sold on to a specialist rearer of calves. At between 9 and 12 months it will be sold as a store cow to a second specialist rearer. It is finally sold to a specialist finisher who will ultimately sell to the supermarket buyer or simply run the finished cattle through the local market.
3 movements, 3 transactions which add to the costs and mean full traceability of what the animal has eaten or how it has been raised is challenging to say the least.
The animal will be fed predominantly grass but is also fed extra protein in the form of grains or maize in order to grow faster. Everyone is in a hurry to get the animal to the required weight. This has negative implications for both costs and quality.
Costs are impacted because grains are much more expensive than grass, as well as the simple fact that if an animal changes hands 3 times in its lifetime, the ultimate price is going to be higher.
The quality differential is impacted for a few reasons:
- Cattle are best treated when growing slowly, eating their natural diet of grass only. Any attempt to speed up this process is a negative hinderance to the cow.
- Post slaughter, we dry hang our carcasses for a minimum of 28 days. This has a very beneficial effect on the texture of the meat. Supermarkets don’t like to dry hang meat. Why? Because it loses weight during the hanging process and they don’t like this. They buy 350 kilos and they want 350 kilos to sell.
- The majority of supermarket meat comes from fast growing continental breeds and crosses that require rocket fuel to get to the finished weight on time.
A simple comparison, which hopefully demonstrates why patience is a virtue in raising beef and we think the results speak for themselves.