Advice of a Farmer(boy)

Here’s a really informative article entitled “How To Buy Beef” written by farmerboy … bon appetit.

If you are reading this then it is for one or two reasons. Either

  • you’re waking up to the crap beef in the shops and you don’t want you and your family to eat it – you demand something better – or;
  • you want the same goods for cheaper.

This brief contains all that you need to buy better for cheaper.

First off, beef that is produced for the mass market is of a poorer quality. Waitrose is typically better than Lidl. Cheap beef is typically a ‘dairy throw-out’ bull calf that obviously won’t produce milk and won’t make the grade as a quality animal. These are normally kept in sheds and fed silage (pickled grass), grains (known as “barley beef”) and factory produced foodstuffs (fermented grass pellets). Because of their confinement, they are more prone to disease so get regular doses of anti-biotics for things like Bovine TB. Dairy cattle are typically crossed with a continental bull like a Simmental just to get the cow in calf again and to use the calf for beef.

Proper beef is derived from a purpose bred beef animal like an Aberdeen Angus, Hereford or a North Devon – I farm Devons. Proper beef feeds on grass that is growing in a field. They are free to walk about, exercise and build muscle. They may have to come in and stay in a shed for a couple of months during winter where ideally they will be fed hay, hayledge or similar. Grass pellets (called “crunch” or “creep”) and root veggies like Swedes are sometimes fed for variety and training purposes.

Organic is not as simple as it appears. All farmers – every last one of them – cheats. Life is just a matter of degree. Organic farming can be cynically viewed as modern, conventional farming but you can’t do this and you can’t do that. Organic is better because “what goes in, comes out”. If anti-biotics are used then there will always be a residue, no matter how small, it’ll be there. The less synthetic product and drugs in, the healthier the end product is going to be. Modern farming may be more productive but the end product is different. You may decide that it is better to be Organic and I have seen organic cattle that were a disgrace. At the same time, I have seen conventional, continental crosses that I would have been proud of.

The health of humans is directly effected by what we eat. We are now in a time of obesity, men growing breasts (moobs) and general poor health. Whilst we make efforts to reduce the amount of additives like MSG, aspartame and the like, we should pay more attention to ‘food’.

Homeopathy can work incredibly well with farm animals. We use it to treat internal and external parasites as well as Bovine TB. Not only does it have no side effects but there is no withdrawal period. This is the amount of time that must exist between the animal being treated and it entering the food chain.

At the abattoir, 90% of the quality of the meat can be lost in the kill. If they won’t load on the farm and get stressed out, have a long and difficult journey and then get mistreated at the point of being killed then the meat just won’t rate. Adrenalin and lactic acid get locked into the meat and the taste and quality is reduced. I follow mine in so they can see me all the way through to the end. It is the ultimate betrayal and I have to be out of there before the kill is done. That bit can get quite emotional for me but when I see it on the other side and the meat inspector tells me that he likes what I produce then the emotion stops and I remember that I am in business.

Butchery is the final bit. A bad butcher can ruin 3 years of work. Beef has to be hung in a cold store – about 3 above freezing if I remember right. Some call it ‘maturing’ or ‘aging’ but in reality it is becoming more digestible because it is starting to break down. Between 21 and 28 days is the normal but 28 is not better than 21 because it dries out and the quality goes down. A good butcher will decide when it is ready but just so’s you know, it should be slightly stiff, dark red (claret, anyone?) and smell like cheese.

So how do you buy beef?

Find a supplier. This could be either a small holder or a specific beef farmer. The more adventurous will supply mail order which is a cheap way of buying. Country shows are a good starting point or get on the internet. If you support your producer and cut out the supermarket then get a win/win situation, which is great for us all!

Inspect your farmer. What else do they do? Is the farm tidy and clean? Do they belong to a breed society? Are they Organic and/or FABBL registered? Does he show his stock? What is his reputation?

Inspect the stock. What breed are they? Where are they kept? What do they eat? Do they look healthy? When you get close do they run away, become frightened or show aggression? If so then it indicates lack of contact with the farmer and maybe abuse. The sign of a good stockman is if he can groom his stock out in a field. A real test is how they behave in a crush. Happy cows are healthy cows.

Inspect the meat. How do they get transported? Where is the abattoir? Time leads to stress which leads to poor quality. How long is it left to hang?

I know that I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt but you can have it too! Stop buying crap at the supermarket and buy something else – buy better. If you have any question then either track me down or do it through the forum. is accurate apart from the weaning periods. Modern intensive methods may take the calf at 3 days but we leave the calf with the cow for life. Weaning is a natural process. is a typical breed society. You’ll find me in here somewhere. is biased to animal welfare and breeding plans. Worth noting. are one of many organic bodies.

Eat well, Farmerboy.


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