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Rearing your own food

We are commercial bull beef farmers and most of our meat is exported as "processing beef" to the US and China. We keep a small herd of what I refer to as "house cows" that we breed from for our own freezer. The term isn't really correct, as they are not all cows. If we have male calves, we castrate them for ease of management, and, (supposedly), better meat quality...I need to do a taste test to see if I agree with that one! We also have some heifers in the mix (female cattle who haven't yet had a calf.)

My 'house cows' are an eclectic bunch! The matriarch and first member of the crew is Buttercup, who is a Jersey-cross-Friesian dairy cow. She came from the dairy farm next door as a 4-day-old calf, around 7 years ago. Buttercup was meant to be a real life house cow for me, that I could milk every day, however she has never been a huge fan of people or being handled. So, instead, she became the first member of our breeding herd.

We now have a few of Buttercup's descendants, and last winter Charlie and Oscar decided they would like to rear a couple of calves. So I brought home 'Controller' and 'Baby Calf' from the dairy farm I was working on at the time.

We haven't had any calves this Spring (the drought and a lack of prioritisation for getting them in calf this year can account for that!), but they have been running with a couple of bulls for the last few months, so hopefully 2021 will bear us some new babies.

When the offspring are between 2–3 years old they are usually considered 'prime', and that is when we will give our home kill butcher a call and they come out to the farm. In fact, we have just had our latest steer butchered and collected the meat yesterday, just in time for the Christmas and summer BBQs!

When the butcher comes to the farm, we bring the animal in from the paddock, which is usually right next door to the cattle yards. They are shot in the yards and then the butcher skins them and removes the guts and organs before transporting them to town for further processing.

We take the beef cheek and rest it in our fridge for a few days before slow cooking it – (it's amazing...the collagen in the cheek muscle makes the meat so tender it falls apart on your fork!

All of the organs are frozen for 72hrs to kill any parasites or bacteria, and is then fed to our working dogs. Some people get pretty irate about that, as they consider it a waste, not to eat the organs ourselves. The fact of the matter is I'm not confident cooking with organ meat and our dogs are a critical part of our farming business, so it is not a waste at all in my eyes. I'm always keen to be shown some new cooking techniques and recipes though!

The beef carcass is hung in a giant chiller for a few weeks, to 'age' the meat and is then turned into whatever delicious cuts we desire, by our skilled butcher. It is packaged in vacuum sealed bags and put into boxes for collection.

In NZ you cannot sell home-kill meat unfortunately, as the animal hasn't been killed in the 'controlled environment' of a slaughterhouse, so it is purely for our own consumption.

We also raise pigs and sheep for our own freezer. The butcher takes care of the pigs for us but my husband deals with the sheep and we also process our own venison and wild goat. One of our favourite meals is a good goat vindaloo, especially when we have friends around that we can introduce it to! Goat is the most widely eaten meat around the world but in NZ many people have never tried it – they're missing out on a treat!

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