Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boutique British White Beef in Australia

The following is an excerpt form an article focused on a variety of folks raising vegetables, eggs, pork (and you really should follow the link and read about MRS. PORK!) and beef. What was of most interest to me is the reason O'Neill  (Mr. Beef) set about finding a niche buyer for his rare British White beef. Just as they often are here in the USA, his white calves were treated poorly at the local market. Rather than continue to bear that economic hit, he found a niche for his rare beef.

Unfortunately, that is not as easy to do in many regions of the USA. The numbers of beef processing plants are declining, and it's rare to find one in a rural area in my part of the world that can bear the economic burden of either Texas' or the USDA's Inspection requirements. So, I can't sell my British White beef to local restaurants unless I haul my calves quite a distance, and haul that beef all the way back. Hauling calves more than 3 hours to slaughter is not even acceptable in many specialty boutique/certified beef programs.

Soul Food, 9/8/09, by RICHARD CORNISH

Mr. Beef......

MICHAEL O'Neill didn't start farming to make money. He bought a herd of British White cattle to save the breed. British Whites were once common in England; now there are only 1500 registered breeding cows in Britain and about 400 in Australia. With their white coats, black noses and long black eyelashes, the beautiful animals stand out on the green hill that dominates O'Neill's farm in Musk, central Victoria.

But saving a breed means having enough for genetic diversity. "They are not pets," says O'Neill, who has an off-farm income as an interior designer. "They have to pay their way, and that, unfortunately, means we have to slaughter some of the steers for meat."

O'Neill sent his steers to market, where they were sold as a nondescript breed at a disappointingly low price. But he decided that his beautiful white cows were not going to "meet the indignant end as a pile of pink mince on a black supermarket meat tray".

He bought more land from the retired farmer across the road, increased the size of his herd, and sells beef to top restaurants, such as the Lake House in Daylesford, and through farmers' markets. The meat is very good, with rich, complex flavours and wonderfully tasty fat.

O'Neill says he is no mere hobby farmer. "I am saving a breed; I am growing exceptional beef; I am using quality farmland productively. If this was Europe, no one would be questioning what I do."

He has a matter-of-fact attitude to eating animals he has known. "How could you eat an animal you didn't know?" he says. "With all the rubbish they feed animals and the appalling way many animals are treated, I am quite comfortable to eat meat that has come from an animal that has been well treated until the end."

But he still regrets having to send "the boys" to slaughter. "I went with them to the sale yards once," he says. "They had been on a strange truck trip and were in a pen surrounded by strange herds. They looked up, saw me and recognised me and kept on looking at me."