Thursday, November 14, 2013

Veal: The "Bad" Word In Agriculture

Poppy. My Jersey calf from 2008!
 One thing I've learned over these few years of being in the farming world is that if you want to ruffle the average consumer's feathers, mention veal. More often than not this word brings on some expression of horror. "Veal!? You mean that practice where people eat those innocent baby cows!? That's cruel!"

 Veal is a bad word. People don't like to think about this (although many love to eat it as a guilty pleasure). And you can find yourself as the recipient of some very strong language if you find yourself talking about this to the wrong person (hello vegetarians, vegans, and animal rightists!).

  But you know something? Veal doesn't have to be what most people think of, which is that of doe-eyed calves chained to tiny stalls and aren't allowed freedom. Few farmers do this anymore, anyway. There's an alternative for us small farmers though; it's known as "rose veal". These are calves raised on pasture and allowed to romp until they reach the proper size which is about 300-500 lbs. They lead a happy, healthy, carefree life, and are a far cry from what the average consumer imagines in their mind's eye. Some people will still say they don't want to eat a baby animal, but guess what? Just about all animals are butchered at a very young age; people only seem to balk at the idea of eating a young cow. Last I checked, those slaughter age lambs and goats were pretty darn cute...

  Anyway, this post isn't supposed to be a rant (well it sort of is... I'm getting of the soap box now though). I wanted to share a link with y'all about raising veal as a startup enterprise. I've looked into veal over the last year and a half, and I personally like the idea. Running a beef herd sounds good in theory to me, but then I start thinking about having to deal with those adult cows... And a bull... And the infrastructure I'd need... And my lack of physical strength... On second thought, maybe a beef herd isn't such a good idea for a single girl to tackle. Even if she does have a good dog. Of course, there's always the idea of raising stocker calves over the summer and then slaughtering them. That's where you buy 500 lb. calves, fatten 'em up, and ship 'em off when the cold weather comes. Easy to do, Joel Salatin recommends it, not much infrastructure is needed. Boom. We're cookin'. Right? Eh... Until you look at stocker prices. Granted, those vary from state to state, but in my area you're looking at $1 to $1.50 per lb. for a stocker. That's $500 to $750 for EACH calf!!!! I'm not made of money!!! Sure, it probably pays in the end and once you get going you can use your profit to invest in more calves. But - um - what about those of us (meaning me, primarily) who usually only has about $500 to their name? I could buy one calf and then poof! I'd be broke. I wouldn't even have enough money to haul the calf home. Or buy fencing. Or a charger. Back to square one, we go.

  I live in an area where you can't hardly throw a stick without hitting a dairy (or a vineyard, or an alpaca farm... Yeah. It's eclectic here.). And those dairies sell their bull calves for anywhere from $0 to $50 per calf. The dairyman who I've bought calves and cows from over the years sells his Jersey bull calves for $25 each. I could buy TWENTY dairy calves for the same price as ONE stocker calf. Hmm. Granted, bottle feeding those twenty calves for the first 6-8 weeks can be expensive, so that would take careful planning so that you're not burning money. Profit wise though, I see potential. Looking at who's selling what here in Oregon (all my math is very, very specific to my location. I'm not saying you can't have the same prices; I just can't confirm it), and beef is selling for an average of $3.00 per lb. dressed and cut. Veal is selling for $9.00 per lb. So if you butcher out your 1,100 - 1,200 lb. stocker calf and get 600 lbs. of meat, you're looking at a gross of $1,800 (your profit depends on all those details that vary from farm to farm). If you butcher out your 500 lb. veal calf and get 250 lbs. of meat, you're looking at a gross of $2,250 (if you think that $9 per lb. is ridiculously high, then I sure ain't about to tell you that I sell my greens for $96 a lb.). Who's your customer for veal? I'd say high-end restaurants primarily. If you've got a good farmer's market near you that brings in folks willing to pay top dollar for food, then that'd be a good outlet too.

  Personally, I like the idea of veal. Those calves aren't hanging around for near as long, they're easier to handle (especially since they're used to human contact), small enough that a girl + a good dog could handle them, they're cheap to get into, and there's a growing market for this.

  Now, why am I spouting all this? I'm not trying to create some bandwagon that everyone jumps onto, I promise. But I do want to put this idea out for those of you who are on small acreages, or you have limited start up finances, or you like the idea of cows, but are rather intimidated at the idea of caring for something that weighs 1,200+ lbs. I think there's something to this.

Edit: I had a different link earlier, but then reader and friend, Lindsey, informed me of a better one! So, here's for your reading pleasure, folks. This is a five-part blog series coming from a lady who's been raising veal calves for something like eight years now. The information that she shares is detailed and very handy. I loved reading through it!! Just click HERE and you'll be directed to it!
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Lindsey said...

Sandra Miller, the author of the article series you've linked to, lives a few stone's throws away from me! I've been to her farm, bought goat meat from her at the local farmer's market, and I really admire her and all that she's doing to change our local food scene. She's already published the entire series on her blog:

Just another reason for you to come visit me. ;)

Little Homestead In Boise said...

I've read factory veal calves are kept in the dark, forced to stand and kept anemic, I'll pass...

Goat Song said...

Aaah! Thank you for that link, Linz!! Now I have to zoom off and read all her posts! ^_^

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've had this idea for awhile as Jersey calves are sold for $30-$50 around here. I didn't know for sure that this was a viable option. Every farmer around here scoffs at the idea. Heck with them! Thanks to you and the links u provided I'm going for it!