Meeting the challenge of ethical meat

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Many of you will know we grow our own meat on farm. We do this consciously and deliberately. Making sure every animal who gives their lives for ours is treated in the best way possible up until that one bad day. Free to roam, eat their natural grass diet on organically managed pastures in the sun (and sometimes the rain), with plenty of room to frolic at dusk and shelter from the winds in winter. We do everything we can over the processes we can control to make sure that animal  is treated with respect from hatch to dispatch.

We also take a lot of care when we choose the method of dispatch and how that animal is processed after dispatch. Over the past six years we have tried a number of different models to make sure that not only is the animal treated with respect and given the appropriate treatment as it’s life is ended, but that the people who trust us with providing them ethically grown food are able to access a delicious product, unlike that found in any supermarket.

We have tried a few different abattoirs and butchers in the time we have been on the farm. My preferred option is always an on-farm kill. It is not anywhere near as stressful for the animal, they are in a familiar environment. Generally they are eating some tasty hay when they put their head down for the last time and they don’t even know what’s coming. And it is quick. Sorry to be graphic, but it is really important to us that the animal suffers as little as possible for as short a time as possible. Yes, they are giving their life for ours, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful and lengthy procedure for the animal.

On-farm kill also produces by far the most superior meat. A relaxed animal hangs out relaxed and this is reflected in the tenderness of the meat. The flavour is enhanced by this and the end product is amazing. If you’ve only ever shopped for meat in a supermarket you will not know what I am talking about. It is like the difference between tinned tomatoes and tomatoes picked straight off the bush in the height of summer. No comparison.

Unfortunately we can’t sell meat processed on the farm as it does not meet the local regulations for food processing. So when we want to share our produce with our friends, family and customers, then we are obliged to put the animal through a registered abattoir. Which means the animal is transported in a trailer – something they have never experienced before – for up to an hour. And then left in a yard with animals they’ve never met before who are destined for the same fate. Sometimes they can wait up to 24 hours in these holding pens and they are not the nicest places to be as animal manure builds up and animals from different farms mix together, sharing all sorts of things.

Once the deed is done, then the carcass is transported to our butcher of choice. In some cases this is a short journey and at times we have used a butcher who also owns a small abattoir, so the treatment of the live animal is slightly more humane and the journey a little shorter. But it can be disappointing when the butchering end of the job is not up to scratch. When so much love and effort goes into growing an amazing animal, the final wish is that the butcher treats the carcass with respect by cutting it beautifully, like you would find in a fine-dining establishment. Not like you would get in the supermarket.

We have tried a variety of butchers – some are amazing and some are not so great. We have had challenges with our orders not being filled as per our orders, our orders not being ready on time, our own animals not being returned to our butcher and substituted with someone else’s animals. All of this means we have no control over the end product and sometimes we have had to let our customers down and sometimes customers have received more than they paid for – which is nice for them but doesn’t help make our business sustainable.

I guess my point is that no matter how hard we work to raise the animal right, getting the end product to the customer in outstanding condition is a combination of great abattoir work and great butchering as well. So we are continuing to search for a suitable solution which respects the animals’ lives at every step of the process.  Fortunately we have AMAZING customers who are very loyal to us, even when the meat is not cut as well as we would like, or it is late, or over packaged. We thought we had turned the corner recently and found a great butcher who has a terrific relationship with the local abattoir, only to find they have sold their business! So we are back to square one!

We will continue to search for the most humane, respectful processes. We will continue to raise our animals ethically, organically and with full regard for their individual needs. We will continue to walk the paddocks to personally inspect every animal as it grows and develops under our care. And we will continue to fight for improved, ethical meat processing systems which support the small producers.

If you care about the quality of your food and the way it is treated, then if we can supply you, visit your local farmers’ market and get to know the producers. Ask questions about how they produce the food they produce and sell, get to know their farming practices, build a relationship with them. Then you will know and trust where your food is coming from and have a little more knowledge about where your food comes from and how it is grown. And if you’ve bought meat, eggs or honey from us in the past – thank you! Thank you for the trust you put in us to produce high quality products. Thank you for trusting your family’s health to us in some small part!