• Wednesday, May 30, 2018

    Every Steak has a Story

    May is National Beef Month. I don’t know who decides these months or why, but I’m glad we have a whole month devoted to a protein that I love to eat and raise. I have been mulling on the idea for this post for a while and figured May would be a great time to put my thoughts on paper, or technically, computer screen.

    I love to do farm tours. We take a group of ladies on our annual Moms on the Farm Tour here in Northwest Arkansas, but we also do tours with students and other groups. A few years ago, I had some friends from Dallas come to town and ask me for something fun to do with their kids and I said, “Want to go see a dairy?” And we did. We toured a local dairy and had a great time!

    On these tours, everyone loves to hear the farm story; how long the farm has been in operation, how many generations of this family have operated the farm, what crops have been raised there over the years. We love to see those farm stories in the grocery store, too. Several food companies do a great job of sharing the stories of their farmers with their consumers. People love to go to the farmers market or see ‘locally grown’ on the food they buy. I think it’s great that so many consumers want to know about their food and the farmers that produce it.

    But, here is what I think people are missing… every steak has a story.

    There are about ¾ of a million beef farms and ranches in the US, and over 91% are family owned or individually operated. The average size of a cow herd is 40 cows.

    That means that most of the beef bought in the US came from a farmer with a story, just like the one you would hear from our ranch. The calves from our ranch aren’t sold at the farmers market or to a special store with our name on it. They go from our place to a backgrounder (like the Peterson Farm Brothers) or a feedlot operation (like the Feedyard Foodie). I’ve written a post about the segments of the beef industry. Then they will be harvested in a commercial facility and processed into beef that may go to a fancy restaurant or a small grocery store.

    Cows on snow on the plains, on green grass here in
    Northwest Arkansas, or in the arid mountains in New Mexico.
    They all raise beef.
    When you buy a steak at the store or order one in a restaurant, it could have come from a farm in Florida or a ranch in Montana. We visited a farm in Hawaii where the cows ate Noni fruit and lived within view of the Pacific Ocean. That’s the great thing about beef. Cows can live in very diverse climates and under lots of different conditions, but they all produce beef.

    If you are interested in hearing more stories about farmers who raise beef and others in the beef industry, check out these blogs:

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Myths about Super Chicken

    Lately, I’ve been seeing some stories about how unnaturally large and overgrown chickens are. People see how much bigger chickens are today compared to 50 years ago, and they question what farmers and poultry companies are doing to get them that way. So, I thought I would write a post addressing some of the myths about Super Chicken.

    MYTH: Chickens are given steroids and/or hormones to make them so big.
    First, it has been against Federal Regulations to give chickens steroids or hormones since the 1950’s. You may remember that from my previous post about food labels. In addition to being unlawful, steroid hormones don’t work well through feed or water, so farmers would have to inject the birds to get the effects of the hormones. Most chicken farmers have 50,000 birds or more. It would take a long time to give that many shots.

    Poultry scientists have studied bird nutrition for many years and learned the optimal diet for raising chickens quickly and efficiently. The diets are balanced with the exact about of carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals the chickens need at their specific phase of growth. The birds have access to feed at all times, and all this attention paid to their dietary needs helps them grow fast.

    MYTH: Chickens are loaded up on antibiotics to make them grow.
    Most large poultry farmers raise their birds with minimal to no antibiotics in the feed and water. They have learned to control disease with sanitation and proactive feed ingredients like probiotics and essential oils. If a farmer needs give their birds antibiotics when they are sick or to help keep them from getting sick, they work with a veterinarian to determine the best medicine for their flock. Farmers predominantly use types of antibiotics that are not used in human medicine to treat sickness.
    It is important to remember that, regardless of whether or not antibiotics were used in raising your chicken, there are no antibiotics in your chicken meat. All animals must go through a withdrawal time after they are given antibiotics, allowing their bodies time to metabolize the medicine and clear it from their system.

    MYTH: Chickens are genetically engineered to be big and have large breasts. 
    Chickens are not genetically modified or GMOs. Traditionally, farmers kept the biggest and the best hens (momma chickens) and mated them with the biggest and the best roosters (daddy chickens) and produced bigger and better chicks. Today in the poultry industry, those best-on-best mating decisions are made by scientists with pages of data about the birds. They can select new generations of chickens and emphasize any number of traits from growth and breast size to health and bone strength. Couple that with the fact that a farmer can produce a new generation of chicken in a much shorter time than a cow or a pig, and changes in the chicken industry have happened very quickly.

    MYTH: Chickens are raised in cages to make them grow.
    The inside of a chicken house.
    Birds raised for chicken meat are kept in large open houses and allowed to roam freely. To protect the birds’ health, the houses are closed and protected from the outside environment, but the birds have lots of room to wander wherever they wish. They are kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There is food and water available all throughout the house. When you visit a chicken house, the birds are quiet and happy.

    Do you have more questions about chicken myths?

    There is more great info on the website, Chicken Check In. Or you can follow chicken farmers on social media.
    I don’t have many chicken posts, but you can check out my post from the Moms at the Poultry Counter on white striping in chicken, or see my hormone or antibiotic posts. I also have one recipe post with chicken, Grannie Annie’s Pozole.
    As always, please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2018

    Baked Veal Parmigiana

    After spending three days learning all about the American Milk-fed Veal Industry I wanted to incorporate some veal into my family’s meals. First, I tried Veal Parmigiana, a classic Italian recipe that is actually very easy to prepare. We eat plenty of fried food in my house, so I decided to put a healthy spin on Veal Parmigiana and prepare a baked version.

    I began by researching recipes for chicken and pork parmigiana, both baked and fried, but eventually decided to start with this veal recipe from Catelli Brothers. Their recipe fries the cutlets in oil, but I found that it worked well as a baked dish. I visited their processing plant on my tour, and Mr. Catelli sent me the veal cutlets that I used in the dish.
    Season, flour, egg, and bread crumbs.
    Its really too easy.

    First, season the cutlets with a little salt and pepper, then coat them in flour and an egg wash. Mix Parmesan cheese with Italian-seasoned panko bread crumbs for the final coating. I like to use paper plates for the flour and bread crumbs because it’s just so easy to throw away the egg and raw meat soaked flour and bread crumbs when you are done and not worry about cross contamination. I sprinkled a little olive oil on both sides of the breaded cutlets.

    I placed the cutlets on a baking rack in the oven, preheated to 425°F, and cooked them until they reached at least 150°F internally. If you don’t have a cooking rack, you can place them in a baking dish and turn them after about 4-5 minutes. Veal cutlets are typically sliced very thin, so they cook quickly. In my convection oven, they were done after about 8 minutes. A conventional oven will take a little longer.

    Bake and top with sauce and cheese.
    After they reach temperature, I topped the cutlets with a few spoonfuls of marinara sauce from a jar, a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and a little parsley. I baked them for a couple more minutes, until the cheese was melted, and served them over pasta with more marinara.

    In addition to its ease of preparation, this is also a fairly inexpensive dish. Veal cutlets will cost about $10, but I purchased all the remaining ingredients for about $20. Most cooks will already have olive oil, flour, pasta, and the cheeses in their kitchen. It easily made 5 servings for $5-6 per serving. I practiced this dish at my office and served it to two students who had never tried veal. They were both very impressed.

    This is an easy veal dish that would be a great way to introduce your family to a new protein.

    Baked Veal Parmigiana
    4-5 veal cutlets
    1 c flour
    2 eggs whisked with 1 tbsp water
    1 ½ cup Italian seasoned Panko bread crumbs
    Shredded parmesan cheese
    Shredded mozzarella cheese
    Spaghetti sauce
    Olive oil
    Salt, pepper, parsley

    Season cutlets with salt and pepper. Coat cutlets in flour, dip in egg bath, and coat in mixture of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Place on baking rack and sprinkle both sides of cutlets with olive oil. Bake in oven at 425°F until cutlets reach 150°F. Top cutlets with marinara and blend of parmesan and mozzarella cheese and parsley. Bake until cheese is melted.
    Serve with pasta and marinara sauce.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    An abscess: Its not a Tumor!

    I try not to react to every negative photo or post I see online about the meat industry. Frankly, I just don’t have the time. However, when friends or a followers of my blog ask about certain post over and over again, I think it’s time to address it. That happened to me this week.

    This photo and claim from a ‘butcher’ has been circulating around social media. I added the words in yellow.

    I know how disgusting this picture looks, and using the word CANCER makes it extra scary. However, as a meat scientist, I can assure you that it is not cancer. It is an abscess, a localized infection that the animal’s body was fighting.

    Abscesses like this one would be very rare to find in a butcher shop. Our meat supply is one of the most inspected industries in the world. Not even hospitals and nursing homes are inspected like meat plants are. Employees of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service inspect every single animal as it goes through the harvest process. In a big commercial plant, dozens of pairs of eyes will look at every carcass. When an abscess is spotted, it is removed immediately. If an animal has been sick, USDA inspectors will see the signs of illness in the animal’s lymph nodes and internal organs. Sick animals are condemned and not allowed to go into the food supply.

    The meat is further processed and cut up on the fabrication floor. When an abscess is found there, the whole line must be stopped and sanitized. The abscess and the tissue around it is removed and discarded. At that point, the knives, the table, and anything that was in contact with the abscess would have to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

    So, there are several barriers that keep abscesses out of a retail butcher’s hands. I have worked in the meat department of a grocery store and have known several butchers throughout my career. I know they take their jobs very seriously and that they would treat an abscess just like it would be treated at the packing plant. If an abscess did make it to them, I’m sure they would cut out the abscess and the tissue around it and discard it. Then the equipment and area would be cleaned.

    I take issue with posts like these for several reasons.

    1.          They are scare-tactics meant to shock and gross-out people, causing a mistrust of our food system. Cancer is such a scary word. Most of our meat comes from young animals who would be very unlikely to have cancer. Furthermore, an animal with cancer would be very sick and would be condemned on the kill floor by the inspector.
    2.       Pictures like these aren’t about safety or public health; they are about generating clicks and shares and fame for the originator. They are to twitter what auto accidents are to drivers: a sight that makes you slow down and look – and in the case of Facebook and Twitter, perhaps even share, giving the originator of the content attention and followers.
    3.       If these butchers that shared this ‘information,’ were being truthful and were so concerned about these practices in their place of business, why didn’t they speak up? Why would you work somewhere for 30 years where you were disgusted by their policies? Why hasn’t he called his meat supplier and complained about these defects in the meat? 

    This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the safety of the US meat supply, the 8,000 inspectors who oversee production and the hard-working people in our meat plants who bring the safest, most affordable meat supply to our tables. I hope this information helps you feel the same way.

    As always, let me know if you have any questions.

    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Veal processing

    To continue my series on the American Milk-fed veal industry, I’m going to write about my experience in the veal processing plants. In this series, I’ve already written an overview of the veal industry and about how the calves are fed and raised.

    On our tour, hosted by the American Veal Association, we were invited to visit two veal processors in the Philadelphia area. We had breakfast with Wayne Marcho, who told us the story of Marcho Farms. He expanded his business from a few veal calves that he had in his boyhood into a company that employs over 200 people and contracts with veal farms in 5 states. He likes to say it’s a 4H project that ‘got out of hand.’

    A photo of Mr. Catelli's father.
    I love the history in the meat business.
    Tony Catelli invited us to an amazing veal dinner that I’m going to talk more about in my last post in the veal series. His dad started the family veal and lamb business over 70 years ago and passed it to his sons in 1981, becoming Catelli Brothers. Now it is the US division of the family owned Fontelli Food Group, the largest producer of veal in North America with plants in New Jersey and Quebec.

    As a meat scientist, I was excited to get to see a new type of processing plant, but what I saw didn’t surprise me in the least. Just like all the meat processing plants I’ve been in, these plants had the highest standards in animal welfare and were immaculately clean and sanitary. They are operated under USDA inspection with their required HACCP plans to ensure that they produce a safe and wholesome product.

    We observed harvest at the Marcho Farms plant, and, as with most large processing facilities in the US, Dr. Temple Grandin helped to design and approved the holding pens and live animal handling equipment. The animals are showered with water when they unload off the truck and rested in pens. They are calmly moved to harvest only by employees specially trained in live animal handling. The animals were stunned to render them unconscious and proceed through the process using humane and sanitary procedures just as is done in meat processing plants of all species.

    I didn’t have any doubt that the harvest process would be clean and humane because I know the meat industry, and I know the people in it are committed to doing the right thing. Now I can say that I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

    A USDA inspection stamp on
    a veal carcass at Marcho Farms
    Although we were not able to see the harvest side of the Catelli Brothers operation, Mr. Catelli shared that their live animal handling areas are monitored by a third-party animal welfare auditing company. They use video to view their entire process 100% of the time they are in operation.

    Marcho Farms uses a lactic acid wash on the carcasses at various stages in the slaughter process to help keep bacteria from attaching to the meat. USDA inspectors observe the live animals and the whole harvest process. They will also look over each carcass and their organs for signs of disease or contamination. The inspector will mark each carcass with an inspection stamp of edible ink.

    The carcasses are washed with 180°F water and individually bagged in plastic to eliminate cross-contamination. After chilling 48 hours in a cooler they are graded and cut up. 
    The calves weigh about 500 pounds and have carcasses that range from 250 to 300 pounds.
    You can see the size of the
    veal carcasses at Marcho Farms.
     This man is about 6-foot tall

    Veal grading

    Just like beef, veal has USDA grades assigned to the carcasses by a USDA grader. Veal carcasses may grade Prime, Choice, Good, Standard, or Utility. Grades are decided based on the conformation of the carcasses (ratio of muscle to bone and fat) and the color of the lean.  The grader evaluates each carcass and designates their grade with a stamp of purple, edible ink.

    Marcho Farms also participates in a USDA Process Verified Program called Butcher’s Block Reserve. It has qualifications for Quality grade in addition to ribeye size and lean color. The USDA grader evaluates each carcass and certifies the ones that meet the specifications for the program. It’s kinda like Certified Angus Beef for veal.

    At Marcho Farms, USDA graders stamp veal carcasses with Quality Grade or Butcher Block Reserve

    stamps based on lean color, ribeye size, and conformation (muscling).


    In the meat business, we use the term ‘fabrication’ to reference the trimming and cutting up of the carcasses, so it’s really the opposite of ‘fabrication’. But, that’s the tradition.

    Employees wear white frock and aprons,
    disposable sleeves and gloves when
    handling and cutting the veal.
    Just like in all meat processing facilities, the plant is washed top to bottom every day, and company employees and USDA check the plant for cleanliness before they get started. Anyone entering the plant is required to wear clean frocks, hairnets, and hard hats. We had to wash our hands every time we entered, even though we weren’t going to touch anything. Employees who work with the meat wear plastic gloves and sleeves that get changed several times each day.

    All of the cutting and packaging rooms are kept at refrigerated temperatures. Several times throughout the process, the veal cuts were sprayed with a blend of lactic and citric acid to control bacterial growth. The veal cuts move through the plant on cleaned, sanitized conveyor belts and in containers we call ‘lugs.’ The veal cuts are packaged ready to set out in the store. Catelli Brothers was the first company to provide case-ready veal and lamb. Once the cuts are packaged and labeled, they are boxed and stored in refrigeration until they are shipped out. Even the shipping dock is temperature controlled and the company places a temperature recorder inside each truck to ensure the meat stays cold.  
    Case-ready veal cuts at Catelli Brothers

    Mr. Catelli said that most of their veal takes less than 7 days from harvest to retail. That includes the carcasses being imported from Canada! Freshness is very important in the veal industry. Both Marcho Farms and Catelli Brothers said that they are able to trace their veal from farm to fork.

    Something I always enjoy hearing about is the plant employees. These two plants employ over 400 people. It’s not easy work. These folks have to work on their feet in cold temperatures wearing lots of protective equipment. But, they enjoy their jobs. Many employees of both of these companies have worked there for many years. Mr. Catelli introduced us to Phil, who has been cutting meat for 57 years.

    As on the harvest side, nothing I saw in fabrication and packaging surprised me. The process was clean and efficient. I have no doubt that they are producing a safe and wholesome product. Please let me know if you have any questions.

    I wanted to share a few more pictures from the plant.
    Some meat loaf blend heading from the grinder to packaging
    in the Catelli Brothers plant. It contains veal, beef, and pork.

    The carcasses at Catelli Brothers are harvested
    in both the US and Canada. So, the
    Canadian food safety system inspects
     the carcasses that are imported.

    Carcasses at Catelli Brothers are split into two sides like a beef
    or pork carcass, whereas those from Marcho Farms are left intact
    like a lamb carcass. Each company does what works best for them.
    When the meat cutter removes all the meat from the ribs like this,
    we say its ‘Frenched.’ These are Frenched veal racks waiting
    for the meat cutter to cut them into Frenched veal rib chops.
    Veal shanks for Osso Bucco.

    Veal cutlets. They have been tenderized.

    Monday, June 12, 2017

    Raising the calves… the American Milk-fed Veal Industry, part 2

    In May, I was given the opportunity to attend a tour of the American Milk-fed Veal industry, hosted by the American Veal Association. I learned so much about veal that I decided that there was no way that I could squeeze it all into one post, so I am writing a series of posts about veal. Part 1 was an introduction to veal where I shared a few of the things that I didn’t know about veal. This post is going to cover how the calves are raised and fed.

    Veal is primarily produced by male calves from the dairy industry. In some cases, the calves go directly to slaughter from the dairy farm, becoming Bob Veal, which makes up less than 10% of the US veal industry. The veal calves that I saw were Milk-fed Veal, which go to harvest at about 5 months of age and represent about 85% of the US veal industry.
    Individually penned calves at an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. 
    These little guys are pretty young. That metal divider 
    will be removed when they are about 8 weeks old and these 
    two will be housed together.

    On the dairy, calves are given colostrum after they are born and are cared for by the dairy farmer for those first few days after birth. Then, they are sold to a veal farm where they are vaccinated and evaluated for health concerns. The calves are not castrated nor are their horns removed.

    Calves have a very strong instinct to suckle, and they will actually suckle on each other given the chance. This can cause health problems for the calves, so very young calves are housed in individual pens. They can still touch and see their neighbors. This helps the farmer really care for each calf’s needs. If one is sick and stops eating, the farmer will know right away.

    The barns I visited were naturally ventilated, meaning they had huge windows that allowed a nice breeze to cool the calves in the warm months. It was 90°F in Pennsylvania the day I toured, and it was pleasant in the barns. In the winter, the barns are heated and insulated, and the windows can be closed, so even on the coldest days, they don’t get below 50°F inside.
    Dr. Marissa Hake in a veal
    barn in Indiana.

    Are the calves healthy?

    The calves’ health is monitored daily by the farmer and routinely by a company veterinarian. We met the veterinarian for Midwest Veal, Dr. Marissa Hake. The calves’ iron levels are monitored so that they are not anemic and that the veal is high quality. As with all young farm animals, biosecurity on the farms is very important. We stepped in foot baths and wore protective clothing when we visited the farms.

    The calves also arrive and leave with an all-in, all-out policy, meaning that all the calves come together and leave together. That way they are all the same age and stage of development which is easier on the farmer and his concerns for caring for them. Furthermore, not introducing new animals helps to minimize their exposure to diseases and chances of getting sick.
    A foot bath at the door of a veal barn.

    If the little guys get sick, they are treated right away. They may need electrolytes to keep them from getting dehydrated if they get scours (calf diarrhea). If they have respiratory illness or other infections, they get antibiotics. Veal calves are given antibiotics on what is called ‘extended withdrawal.’ All antibiotics have a withdrawal, or a specified amount of time between the last day the antibiotic can be given and when the animal goes to harvest. This allows their body plenty of time to metabolize the antibiotic and eliminate it from their system. Extended withdrawal means that the time is even longer.

    Liquid and dried whey (above).
    Soy lecithin, lard, and coconut oil
    (left to right, below).

    What do they eat?

    The calves are fed a milk replacer made from cheese byproducts. We had the opportunity to tour two different milk replacer manufacturing plants. Calves may be fed a liquid-based milk or a dry milk, just like the liquid or dry formulas we have to choose from for our babies. In Indiana, we toured a liquid-based plant, in Pennsylvania, the milk replacer was dry.

    When butter and cheese are made from milk, the sugars and proteins are removed in a byproduct called whey. Milk replacer, liquid and solid, is made from whey mixed with coconut oil, lard, and a fat from soy called lecithin. A mix of vitamins and minerals are also added in the milk replacer. In the liquid plants, the milk replacer is stored at 40° F, like milk in your fridge. In dry feed plants, it has to go through a drying process before it is bagged in 50 lb. bags.

    All of the incoming ingredients and outgoing milk replacer at the plants are handled using food-grade standards and processes. They are monitored for bacteria and other quality factors like pH. The protein in the milk replacer is adjusted to meet the calves’ needs as they grow.

    Feeding at the farm
    Mixing the milk for the calves.

    Liquid and dry milk replacer must be mixed with water before it is fed to the calves. For mixing, the water and milk are heated to 180°F, which allows it to mix well, but also helps control bacteria that may make the calves sick. Then it is cooled back down to about 102°F to be fed to the calves. The calves are fed milk replacer twice a day.

    When the calves are little, they have to learn to drink out of a bucket, just like babies have to learn to drink from a cup. One Amish family we visited said they let the calves suck on their fingers and lowered their mouths into the buckets of milk. Other farms had little floating nipples that helped teach the calves to drink. Eventually, they figure it out and drink the milk right out of a bucket or trough.

    At the Amish farms, water for milk
    was heated in coal-fired ovens.
    Growing calves

    When the calves get bigger, they eat grain. Most of the calves had grain available to them all the time. Some farmers fed grain wet, others did not.

    Once the calves reached about 8 weeks of age they are transitioned to group housing. In Indiana, the calves actually moved to a different farm where they were penned in groups of 3 or 4. In Pennsylvania, the calves stay where they are, but dividers between pairs of calves were removed and the calves stay in their pen with their closest neighbor. The industry standard according to the American Veal Association (AVA) is to raise all milk-fed veal calves in loose or group housing like this. AVA established a goal in 2007 to transition the industry to group housing and industry leaders indicate that goal will be accomplished by the end of 2017.
    Grain for the calves.

    In the barns, the calves were quiet and happy. I could tell that they were used to people caring for them because many of them came to the fence to be petted or tried to lick my clothes and hands. They happily stuck their heads out of their pens because they were curious about new people.

    The calves are raised on milk replacer and grain until they reach about 500 pounds and 5 months old. Then, they are sent to the processing plant. What I learned about veal processing will be in my next post.

    Friday, June 2, 2017

    The Milk-fed Veal Industry

    As a meat scientist I get lots of questions about all kinds of different meat, and most of the time, I feel pretty confident answering them. If I don’t know the answer, I definitely know someone who does.

    …unless I was asked about veal… Veal was one topic I didn’t feel very knowledgeable about. I grew up in a rural area in the middle of the country where few people served veal at home and few restaurants offered veal on their menus. There aren’t any veal farmers to go ask or veal processing plants to go tour. Honestly, I just avoided questions about veal because I didn’t know the answers.

    Travel with me, you have to take a
    Until… I was invited by the American Veal Association to attend a tour of the American milk-fed veal industry. They brought me to farms in Indiana and Pennsylvania, feed processing plants, and veal processing plants. It was a whirlwind of 3 days of veal tours that I enjoyed with a dairy farm blogger and friend of mine, Krista Stauffer (the Farmers Wifee), a food and ag blogger and new friend, Heather Tallman (A Basil Momma), and my buddy, Donna Moenning from Look East, an ag and food marketing group.

    I learned so much that there’s no way to fit it all into one blog post, so I’m going to write a series on the veal industry. Today’s post will be an overview of what veal is and some big-picture things that I learned. Then I’ll write a post going more in depth about the way the calves are cared for and what they are fed. In true Mom at the Meat Counter fashion, I’ll have a post devoted to veal slaughter and processing. Lastly, I’ll have a post about eating and cooking veal because … It. Is. Amazing!

    What is veal?

    Veal is meat from young calves. While beef is typically harvested at 14 to 16 months of age, veal in the US comes from calves that are younger than 6 months.

    Veal is largely a byproduct of the dairy industry. Cows must have a calf to produce milk, and female calves (heifers) are kept in the herd to become the next generation of dairy cows. Most male calves are sent to the beef industry where they are grown on milk replacer, grass and grain to become beef at about 14-16 months. A smaller percentage of the male calves are used for veal production.

    There are three types of veal.

    1. Bob veal comes from very young calves, typically about a week old. It only makes up about 10% of the veal produced in the US. We didn’t see any bob veal on our tour. These calves go directly from the farm where they are born to harvest.

    2. Milk-fed or special fed veal comes from calves that are about 5 months of age. These calves are raised on veal farms and fed a milk replacer, kinda like baby formula. They are also fed grain when they get old enough to eat it. Milk-fed veal represents about 85% of the US veal industry.

    Some of the cuts available from Catelli
    Brothers Veal. We visited their plant.
    3. Grain-fed veal is a very small part of the industry in the US. These calves are a little older and are fed grain in addition to milk replacer. We didn’t see any grain-fed veal on our tour either.

    Veal is light reddish-pink in color and has a very mild flavor so it is a favorite of chefs because it accepts flavor and seasoning very well. It is extremely tender and lean. Many of the cuts are served bone-in. Veal is very popular in French and Italian cuisine.

    Americans eat less than ½ a pound of veal per person each year (compared to about 57 pounds of beef eaten per person), whereas Canadians eat over 2 pounds of veal and French-Canadians eat about 6 pounds. Each week the US harvests about 4,000 milk-fed veal calves, compared to about 600,000 animals for beef.

    Two young veal calves at an Amish farm we visited.
    I’m going to go into a lot more detail in upcoming posts, but I wanted to share a few of the surprising things that I learned on my tour.

    • About 75% of the veal raised in the US is cared for by Amish and Mennonite families. 
    • Milk-fed veal is located near the cheese producing areas of the country. The milk-replacer is made from cheese byproducts (whey) and added fats.
    • Veal farmers are trained in Veal Quality Assurance programs to ensure that the calves are well cared for. Veal was the first industry to adopt a Quality Assurance program.
    • Veal calves receive milk replacer for about the same amount of time that beef calves drink milk.
    A farmer in Indiana is feeding the milk replacer to his calves.
    They are eager for their breakfast. 
    • Calves are allowed to eat grain once they are old enough. In all the farms I visited, the calves had free choice grain.
    • Calves are closely monitored for anemia and other health concerns.
    • Veal calves are not castrated or dehorned.
    • Until they are about 8 weeks old, veal calves are raised in conditions a lot like all dairy calves. In the barns I saw, the small calves were in individual pens because they will suckle on each other and cause health problems. But, they can see and touch their neighbors.
    • Once they reach 8 weeks or so, calves are housed in group environments. They may be moved to group barns with 3 or 4 calves in a pen, or simply combined in a pen with their neighbor. Group-raised veal was a policy goal of the American Veal Association and over 90% of their farms operate this way today. All of the farms represented by the AVA will use group housing by the end of this year.
    • Calves are never tethered or restrained. The barns were quiet and the calves all seemed very happy. 
    • Milk-fed veal calves are harvested at about 5 months and weigh about 500 pounds. 

    This tour was such an eye opening experience. The veal I ate while on the tour was absolutely delicious. I am planning to buy some veal to serve to my family and will definitely order veal if I see it in a restaurant. I know that the animals are raised in good conditions and well cared for. I’m confident that the harvest and processing met my standards of humane animal treatment and food safety.

    I hope to help answer some questions and concerns that people may have about veal with this series of posts. If you have a question or a comment, please leave it below.

    Please know that I am tolerant of differing opinions, but I will not tolerate abusive or threatening language. All the comments are monitored by me before they post.

    Here are a few more links to info about veal

    American Veal Association

    Catelli Brothers

    Marcho Farms

    Midwest Veal

    Strauss Brands Veal

    Veal Made Easy

    Veal Quality Assurance