Beefing up confidence in MilkBeef

Milkbeef

Farming has always been a business requiring passion, commitment and knowhow. It is not for the faint hearted – the long hours in often difficult weather conditions are usually not properly rewarded financially but most would argue that is not the point.

However, a profit has to be made and, in the face of extremely tight margins being offered by supermarkets, modern farming has had to evolve to become more efficient.

More intensive methods of beef production have seen many cattle brought in from the fields into sheds for much of their lives where they are fed cereals to ensure they attain maximum growth rates which will ultimately be more profitable when it comes to selling the meat.

But some, such as Emma and Stuart Watson at Manor Farm, Twyford, near Banbury, have concluded that such efficiencies come with a different set of costs that, ultimately, make them unsustainable. Instead, they have put fresh thinking into traditional methods to come up with a niche product they believe will become a popular choice for those who care about their beef.

Known as MilkBeef, it is best described as being between veal and mature beef and offers the best of both on the plate. It is tastier, firmer and more succulent than veal; and is lighter, sweeter and more tender than beef.

It is so called because the animal spends its whole life suckling on its mother’s milk whilst free-ranging at pasture rather than being filled with cereals in a shed. As a result, the calves are naturally healthy, so healthy that MilkBeef is 100 per cent antibiotic free.

Independent scientific studies show that beef raised this way makes for healthier eating than that of animals finished on grains. It has higher levels of the Omega 3 fatty acids needed for human brain development, higher levels of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) which is associated with lowering heart disease and cancer risk, and higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Thus, MilkBeef lends itself extremely well to healthier meals for all the family.

MilkBeef is also better for the environment. Whilst there is no such thing as low carbon beef, there is less carbon beef. Stuart said: “MilkBeef achieves this by growing on permanent grassland and is part of a natural cycle that helps to capture and store carbon in those soils. Outside inputs are minimized or not used at all and food miles are kept as low as possible by keeping all processing local.”

Keeping it local also extends to the supply and sale of MilkBeef. There are many routes to market but for Emma and Stuart by far the best way is to support local butchers by supplying them to sell on to their local customers.

Emma said: “This way everyone wins – especially the consumer who can access quality, sustainable, healthy beef from a known and trusted local source cut just the way they want it.”

“The feedback we have had from the butchers makes it very clear that they see it as a premium product but, even so, they will sell MilkBeef for about the same price as normal beef,” Stuart adds.

Alternatively, for those who like to buy in bulk, MilkBeef can be bought direct from the farm – but be warned: you are going to need a chest freezer! Go to www.milkbeef.co.uk for more details.

The downside to growing beef this way is that it is seasonal – it is only available fresh for eight weeks through October and November. Given its reliance on a natural annual cycle, MilkBeef cannot be made any other way.

“Our cows calve early in the spring and, as soon as possible, go out to the field with their calves. The cow and calf then spend the next eight months, at least, together at pasture; with the calf eating fresh grass and suckling its mother’s milk every day.

By late autumn, when the grass and the milk are running out for the year, it is time to wean the calves. By this time, they are becoming too big and strong for their mothers – who need a rest to prepare for their next calf in the spring. So we must separate the cows and calves but, instead of putting the calves into a shed for the winter, we make MilkBeef instead,” Stuart said.

Some may argue that killing cattle at just nine months old is depriving the animal of a longer life but Emma and Stuart firmly believe their calves enjoy the best life possible until the point of slaughter.

Emma said:”They spend their entire lives in their natural environment – with their mothers, in a herd and at pasture – frankly, only a tiny proportion of the beef available to UK consumers today has had that life. Whilst we are always looking to improve, when all things are taken into consideration, we do not think there is a better beef to put on your plate.”

Now the Watsons have successfully developed the MilkBeef concept, they are looking forward to seeing if consumers agree this autumn.

For further information or to purchase this new produce from October visit www.milkbeef.co.uk or visit the following quality butchers:

Alcoks Butchers, Summertown

Denshams Butchers, Witney

Fillet & Bone, Chipping Campden

Waghorne’s, Cheltenham

Jesse’s Butchers, Cirencester

Wykham Park Farm Shop, Banbury from 18th October.