Farmers and consumers getting a raw deal from bovine elitism
The ongoing controversy surrounding the factory grading system and the varying claims regarding the quality of meat from different breeds of cattle prompted me to do my own research again this year.
As in 2017, I decided to buy back some meat from one of my own grass-finished Friesian cattle to see how it would perform in the only test which really matters - eating quality.
My first move was to pick out from the herd a fairly average bullock which I felt had reasonable confirmation and was nicely fleshed. I noted his ear tag and off he went with the rest of the load to the factory
My first surprise was when I saw the kill sheet. What I felt was a reasonable O grade bullock had only graded a P+.
Out of curiosity I pressed ahead with my experiment as he was well fleshed at 3= and had a carcase weight of 361kg
Several weeks later I collected the meat having allowed it to "wet-age" in the factory cold store.
I was pleasantly surprised by the shape and quality of the steaks but the real test would be in the eating.
I wasn't disappointed. It tasted both tender and delicious. And to counter any accusations of bias, I sent one of the country's top chefs a sample of the same striploin. His simple response was that he found the beef to be both "tender and flavoursome".
While our farm spokespersons must be commended for their current efforts in relation to saleable meat yields, I would argue that they are wrongly putting the emphasis on quantity rather than quality.
I would further argue that this is a short-sighted policy which totally ignores the consumer and the eating quality of meat.
We have always been told that "the consumer is king" but it appears that a form of bovine elitism is currently being tolerated and indeed promoted in the Irish beef industry.
Thousands of tonnes of high quality meat which is Bord Bia quality approved and produced on natural pastureland right across this country is being savagely discounted and treated as an inferior product, I feel, simply because it has come from a black and white dairy animal.
Meanwhile, back on the farm I have sold all my beef cattle and I'm buying-in their replacements.
This is the first time that I succeeded in selling them all before the end of October and it has made grass management a lot easier.
I continue to close off paddocks in the eight block area as the cattle there complete their last grazing of the year.
Although these cattle have plenty of grass ahead of them they appear quite uneasy, so I am going to subdivide the remainder of the paddocks in the hope that more frequent changes will keep them more content.
Elsewhere, I have divided my stores into small lots in preparation for putting them into the shed. They appear to be much more content on this fixed grazing system and the recent spell of dry weather has allowed me to take full advantage of whatever grass is left.
Despite the drop in temperatures, the return of some fine dry days after the stormy weather was a real blessing and has also helped to shorten what appeared to be turning out to be a very long winter.
I was beginning to get a bit worried about my supply of silage after the storms and all the rain.
But the recent improvement, however brief, has made me feel a lot more relaxed facing into the winter which judging by the last few days could turn out to be quite challenging.
John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary
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