A story of compassionate farming from South Hill Farm
This week we received a rare delivery of a very young, three and a half month old vealer from Clara Bateman at South Hill Farm in the Southern Highlands. The carcass is in excellent condition and it promises to yield delicious, tender veal but it's almost half the size of the usual vealer carcasses we receive.
We generally don't buy veal under six months old because of the separation anxiety it causes for the cow and the calf or over eight months old because it's too close to beef. However we made an exception in this case and we're about to tell you why.
This is one of those tricky moments when we decide to take a risk and tell you a difficult farming story that goes to the heart of what it means to eat animals. It's got all the elements of a powerful morality tale - a baby, a tragic death, a hero and an inescapable fate. Telling you this story could go either way for us.
You might read it and be saddened but also challenge yourself to think more deeply about the part you play in supporting farmers like Clara Bateman. Or you might read it in horror and scuttle off to join the growing ranks of vegans, thereby abdicating all responsibility for curbing the rise of intensive farming. Anyway, here goes.
A couple of weeks ago, up at South Hill Farm , a 15 year old Black Angus cow fell in the paddock and broke her hip. She'd always been strong and healthy ('never a vet's bill') and three months previously had given birth to her 13th baby, a healthy calf. After she went down, Clara called the vet who came and told her that nothing could be done to save the cow.
As the shooter moved up to take the shot by her side, Clara talked quietly to the cow to keep her calm so she wouldn't try to stand and suffer more pain. Afterwards, Clara gave the shooter the carcass to feed his 15 working dogs because 'first class protein should never be wasted'.
After 15 years together, Clara was distraught at losing the cow and described it as 'a very difficult time'. But she turned her attention to the orphaned calf and brought him into the yards with his two closest birth group calves and their mothers to keep him company and reduce his stress. She fed him two litres of milk twice daily and lucerne hay which she gave him on his own first, before letting the others in to eat. While he was feeding, she gave him lots of stroking and chats and he stopped crying for his mother two days after she was killed. He scoured a little so she also gave him 25 mls of kefir daily which cleared the scours and she says he LOVED kefir.
When I asked her why she decided to kill him so young instead of growing him out longer out in the paddock, she explained that she was concerned about his ability to stay healthy out in the paddock without a mother and she felt that he would have struggled to adjust to cell grazing. He would be constantly trying to come back to the yards area. Clara runs the farm on her own and there's a limit to what she can manage.
So when she asked us if we would take him we didn't hesitate, even though it's not what we would usually do. We've been working with Clara and buying her excellent veal for eight years. She's a fiercely compassionate, intelligent and dedicated farmer and it's the least we can do to take the calf and do our best to make sure his life is honoured and appreciated.
Which takes us to the hard part of the story and where we hand it over to you.
Because, while this is a sad tale of life and death on the farm, it's also an opportunity for all of us who eat animals to step up and do our bit to support farmers like Clara who take such inordinate care to allow the best life for all the living things under their jurisdiction. That includes everything from the microscopic organisms in the soil through to the 500 kg cattle.
We've taken delivery of the calf and it is ready to be eaten and absorbed back into the cycle of life. Now it's up to you.
Ask about the South Hill poddy calf in the shop or email us to place an order.