Where there’s milk, there’s meat. To non dairying folk, this might not be as elementally understood as it is to dairy farmers. But, just as with humans or any other mammal, cows must first give birth in order to lactate. So in order to keep a herd of cows milking year round, our cows are giving birth all through the year. Our breeding schedule includes a rest period of at least 60 days from the time a cow is dried off to the time she freshens, when her milking cycle will begin again.
On a “conventional” dairy farm, unwanted calves are usually sent to an auction barn shortly after birth. This means they are loaded on a livestock truck with other animals of all ages and sizes, trucked to whatever auction barn is closest, and sent through a ring where they are purchased by the highest bidder, usually a buyer for a commodity meat processor. Calves, especially Jersey calves, are worth virtually nothing and the farmer uses this outlet as a means of ridding themselves of unwanted animals that are costly to raise and take up valuable space. Often, livestock that are sent to auction barns are done so for a reason…. usually poor or failing health. This is an unfortunate component of the modern, large scale dairy industry, and most farmers don’t really have an alternative. Humane treatment is not a large concern in this system, where it is well understood that the lives of animals headed to the auction barn are near their end anyway.
This practice doesn’t fit with our commitment to sustainability. Shortly after our establishment, we started breeding some of our cows, those whose possible heifer calves we didn’t intend to raise as replacement cows, to beef breeds like Angus or Hereford and raising their calves. We’ve been raising humanely grown, rose veal ever since. Unlike conventional veal, which is from calves raised alone in horrifically cramped, darkened spaces as a way to keep the meat tender (from lack of exercise) and pale (a solely milk fed diet and no light produces anemic meat), our veal calves are humanely raised. In winter they are housed in the barn in large, roomy pens with 2-3 other pen mates, where there is plenty of room to play and romp. Their winter diet is made up of hay, a bit of grain, and milk and water. In summer and fall months they live outside in an acre size paddock with shelter where they can run around all day long if they like. They graze on lush grasses in addition to their milk and water. When possible, we use “nurse cows” to raise up to 2 calves at a time.
At around 4 months old, typical slaughter age for veal calves, they are transported to either Eagle Bridge Custom Meat and Smokehouse in Eagle Bridge, NY or to Locust Grove Smokehouse in Argyle, NY, both Animal Welfare Approved and USDA certified. By raising and marketing our veal in this way, it allows our farm to be more sustainable while valuing the lives of the calves born as a means to produce our milk, rather than just adding them to the machinery of the big dairy/beef industry. This is an important part of our farm’s practices and something we’d like more consumers to be aware of as they make their food choices.