Prospective parents will always utter those immortal words ‘I don’t mind what sex it is, so long as the baby is healthy’.
But in the livestock world one of the major disappointments to dairy farmers is when their pregnant cow produces a bull calf. Girls perpetuate the herd and offer continued milk production without the need to purchase replacements.
There was a time when bull calves met a much quicker fate with over 100,000 estimated at having been shot at 24 to 48 hours old but young, tender veal meat is now a fast developing market place in the UK and this is beginning to lessen the rate at which dairy farmers dispose of unwanted, and to them, unproductive stock.
Rosé veal, as it is marketed now, is pale pink in colour and comes predominantly from Holstein and Friesian young bull calves. What’s more it has also impressed the likes of the RSPCA and the campaigning Compassion in World Farming. TV farmer Jimmy Doherty rears bull calves on his farm and has been instrumental in supermarket giants Tesco now stocking rosé veal.
Andrew Hall of Manor House Farm in Strensall believes rosé veal has an important role to play in the coming years and that it shows the bull calf sector has found a way of establishing a niche market for what is a by-product of the dairy industry that needed to be addressed.
“Rosé veal has more taste than traditional white veal that emanated from Italy. It is young meat that has a bit more taste because the calf has had a little longer life and has been fed on solid food. White veal calves are reared purely on milk, slaughtered at 20 weeks and aren’t produced in the UK. Calves for rosé veal are fed as a beef animal would be fed and to all intents they’re young barley bulls.
“Every week we buy anything up to 200 calves at 2-3 weeks old from a variety of livestock markets in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. We then keep and rear them until 12 weeks old and sell over 90 per cent on as weaned calves to other farmers for finishing. We also finish a proportion ourselves as finished bulls at 18-24 months when they have grown to around 600 kilos after having been grazed.”
The farm itself, runs across two farmsteads, coming to just over 300 acres of virtually all grassland in and around the village of Strensall. A small amount of cereal is also grown. Andrew is the third generation to farm and carry out the cattle business here following on from his grandfather Albert and his father Geoff. There are some who will recall the farm being in the eye of a storm for a while many years ago over the export of young stock and use of veal crates.
“It became an emotive subject amongst the general public and proved difficult for our family and staff but we looked at alternatives such as the rosé veal and this has definitely helped in creating not just a better image but also a respected market place.”
Whilst today there’s no ban on the exportation of calves it’s not something that’s on Andrew’s mind. It was the problems with Bovine TB and its restrictions that caused Europe to lose interest in importing British veal. Andrew is now much more concerned with the continuing success of rosé veal and ensuring there’s a continuous supply of product from dairy farms.
“We’re always interested in purchasing calves, especially including Angus X calves. Grazing and fattening cattle; buying and selling cattle and young calves is all I’ve ever known and all I’ve ever wanted to do. Thankfully now that such markets exist as rosé veal we are able to not just continue in the sector but also enthuse other farmers about fattening livestock for the UK market. At the end of the day bull calves need a market.”
Anyone who was to look around the sheds and pens, where Andrew houses the calves at this time of year would be able to see they are clearly stress-free and are well-bedded on straw. There are few other livestock operations that I have seen where the cattle seem so at ease.
Andrew is constantly looking at how he can source more calves and one of the breeds of the beef industry he has taken an interest in recently has been the Japanese breed known as Wagyu. Literally translated it means Japanese cow. Wagyu beef has received worldwide acclaim as the finest beef meat available thanks to its intense marbling, succulence and tenderness. Andrew was approached by farming friends Jonathan Shepherd and Jim Bloom, son of his eponymous father who is well-known for his Limousin cattle, to rear the calves on the same two to 12 week system he operates for black and white calves. They’re then taken on to finishing by Jonathan and Jim.
“It’s early days yet but the beef looks great. It has so much marbling that when it melts when cooked it produces a very juicy steak.”
Andrew employs three staff on the farm. He’s married to Beverley and they have two grown-up children, Sam, 23 and Beth, 21.