let's talk farm animals

Ease your mind about veal calves

By Cynthia David, CP Wire, November 6, 2020

There’s a display at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto this week that may ease your mind about veal.

It’s a model of a veal calf which, in the flesh, weighs 318 kilograms (700 pounds) and stands 1.5 metres (five feet) tall.

“People assume that veal is a tiny little calf, when in fact it’s quite a lot larger and one of the oldest animals we consume,” says Jennifer Haley, executive director of the Ontario Veal Association.

Last month, a small band of journalists headed to Delft Blue Farms in Cambridge, Ont., to see for themselves how prized milk-fed veal is produced.

Delft Blue is Canada’s largest producer of this pale, creamy-textured meat, although it represents just two per cent of the veal we consume, said our guide, marketing director Mike Cooper.

Most of the veal in stores comes from older grain-fed males, which give tender meat with a darker rose colour and mild beef flavour.

According to the OVA, Quebec and Ontario produce 95 per cent of Canada’s veal, with the remaining five per cent scattered between Alberta and British Columbia. According to Cooper, Canada is light-years ahead of Europe in terms of animal care and comfort.

In the first barn, a long, one-storey structure, 54 three-week-old black and white calves peered out from a room of individual wooden stalls that gave them just enough room to turn around, groom themselves and sleep as they grow to 227 kilograms (500 pounds) over 20 weeks, when they’re sent for processing.

There’s a V-shaped opening that allows the calves to visit with their neighbours on either side and drink from a bowl of milk that’s refilled twice a day. Water is plentiful.

Newer barns house 54 calves in an open pen, which gives the animals more freedom to move around. The pens are clean, bright and ventilated with fresh air and easy access to water.

Computers mix the warm formula for all the calves _ a nutritious mixture that’s as close as possible to mother’s milk and includes protein-packed whey discarded by the cheese industry.

Calves in the group pens drink their ration freely from nipples extending from the wall. A toonie-sized transponder implanted in one ear keeps track of exactly how much milk each calf drinks. Producers review the consumption charts and check on each calf daily.

As we walked by a pen of 13-week-olds, a few curious calves sauntered over to the low fence to sniff our outstretched hands. They were cute, but at 60 kilograms (132 pounds) wouldn’t make great house pets.

“The idea that the calves can’t move to keep the meat tender is crap,” said Cooper. The belief that veal calves must be kept in the dark to keep the meat pale is also a myth, he says, although it was a popular notion for centuries.

In fact, these black and white male Holstein calves were doomed from the start, Cooper adds. They were born to mothers in the dairy industry, where there’s no place for an animal that can’t produce milk. About 30 years ago, Canadian farmers began to buy the unwanted bulls to produce lean, tender veal, a meat long popular in Europe.

“People work their butts off to raise these animals well,” says Cooper, who scoffs at any suggestion the animals are mistreated. “If they’re not healthy and thriving, then we as an industry lose money.”

Grain-fed calves drink milk for about eight weeks before being switched to a corn and protein diet, says Haley, who married into a veal-farming family. These animals live in a more open-barn setting and are processed at seven months, or a whopping 272 to 318 kilograms (600 to 700 pounds).

Osso buco, succulent veal chops, veal parmigiana and milk-fed liver and onions are just a few of the dishes Canadians happily order in restaurants, but they can easily be made at home. In three minutes you can stir-fry lean veal strips or scallopine, and in an hour you can create a luxurious tender stew worthy of a three-star chef. The only rule is not to overcook the lean meat.

“Veal is perfect for consumers ready to break away from ordinary, everyday meats,” says Haley. When word gets out, perhaps we’ll all be bullish on veal.

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Posted by FFC on July 13th, 2009 :: Filed under Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Farm life,Housing,Veal
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