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The Deal with Veal

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Below is a post written by our own Ryan Schweers, who like all of us here is passionate about sustainability in the agricultural world. He's also mad about veal and why we should eat it so give it a read, interesting stuff.

Before that though, I'll just mention that we now have our Featherblade Evenings available to book through our website. These typically last 3 hours and will include you wielding a knife or handsaw like we do in the butchery evenings or inventing and spinning your very own sausage in the sausage fest evenings. If you have any more questions on these feel free to ask. The next post from us should have information on what we'll be offering this coming holiday season so look out for that.

Thanks and see you soon, Martin.

Since the beginning of humankind we have harvested animals. I would venture to say that very early in this endeavour folks found out that the juvenile animals, in the case of many species, the harvested meat would be milder in flavor and contain more tender muscle fibers upon consumption. We eat lamb almost everywhere in the world. Why is it that veal is so demonized or widely considered unacceptable from an animal treatment perspective?

Ranchers, farmers, producers that use the variety of species that inhabit this planet to bring a consumable good to any given market do not like to waste. Waste hurts the bottomline and more importantly it can almost be considered a sin against the Earth. Anyone with an inkling of their potential impact on the planet does not like to see a good thing go to waste, much less a cute, fury, animal with a wet nose and kind demeanor. Like a beef calf, or more specifically a baby bull. However, let us keep an open mind and consider what happens from a specific kind of farmer’s perspective.

The deal with veal basically comes down to sexual reproduction in the dairy industry. Dairy farms all over the world and here in the US use specific breeds of cattle. These include Aryshire, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and I am sure the reader would most likely think of the iconic Holstein-Freisian with her black and white spots. Holsteins produce 90% of the milk and dairy products today in the US.

Cattle need to be pregnant in order to produce milk. They will be artificially inseminated, give birth, and be inseminated again approximately three months later in order to continue to produce milk.

(CIWF) Of these calves birthed by the dairy cattle during their milk producing years, and true of cattle in general, on the average 50% will be females that can be raised and eventually will produce more milk for the dairy operation and its consumers. What about the other 50%?

Little Ryan with a little beef

The boys! One might ask, “What happens to the boys when dairy producers can only use the girls to produce milk?” There is clearly little demand in the industry for bull calves, but as mentioned before nobody wants to see something good go to waste. Dairy producers have faced this bull calf conundrum for a century and typically males that are born of a dairy breed can have three different uses in their lifetime:

  1. Breeders - if a calf is considered to be from a genetically superior bloodline they can be raised to maturity to produce sperm for insemination of future dairy cows.

  2. Beef producing cattle - these breeds typically used for dairy are less desirable than hereford, angus, etc. but can be raised for harvest in the beef market.

  3. Veal - considered by many to be the most sustainable and economically beneficial solution, but is solely based on demand which has been on a constant downslide.

Now, to address the image of the tortured baby cow. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful animal cruelty boycott campaign in the US,” said Maggie Hennessy of the National Culinary Review.

Images of small cattle separated from their mothers, tethered and housed in cramped crates and fed a porridge-like formula could not have turned off the regular American meat consumer quicker. Campaigns like these contributed to a drop in veal consumption by the average American from 4 pounds per year to ¼ pound per year by 2015. That 93.75% drop in consumption worsened between then and 2017 by an additional 21% according to the US Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile we cannot seem to get enough beef and consumed approximately 55 pounds per person in 2017, and it is increasing at a steady rate. While these controversial images may have been the truth of veal raising for some bad producers in the past, that is not the case today, at least according to the American Veal Association(AVA). Breaking down these consumer misconceptions is paramount, and the lack of context in the consumer market can be blamed on a number of factors, but must be faced if we are going to have a wholly sustainable way to make milk, cheese, yogurt, and in turn its by-products.

“Today veal calves are humanely raised and are actually a sustainable aspect of the dairy industry.”

(Bakke) Veal is unavoidable, and in my opinion, necessary as a natural by-product of a sustainable dairy industry. Why not incorporate it into our diet and make it the best it can be? The AVA (American Veal Association) is tackling this problem. In 2007, the AVA made a declaration to move all member companies to group housing for veal calves in 10 years. They accomplished this mission with over $150 million dollars invested by individual companies in a variety of group facilities that allow for the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. These group housing facilities allow the animals to socialize and move about freely. Moreover, they cannot be physically altered like normally raised beef steers. Their horns cannot be removed, tails cannot be docked, castration is not permitted, and growth hormones are never used. AVA president Daniel Bakke believes that the newfound consumer desire to know how their meat is raised can be a big opportunity for veal. Complete traceability for each calf from dairy farm to packing plant is also kept by every AVA producer in the US. Bakke goes on to say we need to get this information out to the public to give people permission to eat veal again.

In order to do this the AVA has to tackle one of the hardest tasks that currently exists, to change public opinion. The court of public opinion has taken down too many things to mention in the past few years, but I think even this “court” would agree that if a by-product is unavoidable and its consumption is sustainable then it is necessary to put in the work to produce and market such a product.

Point is, if you drink milk, enjoy cheese, or eat yogurt, you may owe it to the delicious dairy industry and to yourself to try veal. I guarantee a competent cook will make something extremely edible out of a nice cut of veal.


  1. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) website.

  2. The National Culinary Review (Maggie Hennessey) 2018.

  3. The Provisioner Online - State of the Veal Industry 2019 (Daniel Bakke)

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