Monday, April 2, 2012

Of meat and milk: students tour veal barns in Cambridge

by Katrina Simmons
Ross Blaine guides students
through the calf barns. 
Students from Liaison Hamilton spent last Monday learning about the application of probiotics, iron supplements, B vitamins, computerized climate control and daylight-simulating LED lights. No, they weren’t at a resort spa. They visited the calf barns at Delft Blue farm in Cambridge, an innovative veal producer (part of Grober Group) that is striving to reshape the milk- and grain-fed veal industry.

This sector works hand-in-hand with dairy farmers: Milking cows give birth every 12 to 18 months to continue to produce milk. The female calves are added to the herd or sold to other milk producers, but modern dairy operations have no use for male (bull) calves. They are, instead, destined to be raised for meat.

Some calves need to be separated
until their health improves.
Murline Mallette, Liaison Hamilton’s executive director, started life on a dairy farm near Barrie, Ontario, and spent all her summers there even after the family moved to town. She knows well the sounds, the smells, and the realities of life on a farm – the hard work, the connection to the animals that provide meat and milk as well as nutrients for the soil. It is a connection, she says, that everyone should understand, especially those who work in the food sector.

The chef-instructors at Liaison encourage students to shop at the farmers markets, talk to the meat vendors and fruit and vegetable growers. Trips to abbatoirs and meat processors are a regular part of the curriculum.

At 17 weeks these calves
weigh almost 225 kg. 
This tour of Delft Blue was a chance for the current students to learn about where the veal calves come from and the recent innovations in the way that they are housed, fed and cared for before they are slaughtered at about 225 kg (about 18 weeks old).

Fresh from the farm:
Delft Blue veal on the plate at Liaison.
Once they left the barns, the group donned hairnets and lab coats for a tour of the meat packing facility, where the carcasses are hung to age, cut and packaged. Murline hopes that these future chefs brought home a deep respect for the life of the animals so they will strive for minimal waste, and will learn to cook not just the prime cuts, but every other bit possible, from off-cuts to offal.

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