Food for thought...

Slaughter and Butchery, Respect and Responsibility

 

 

We are keen to be transparent about slaughter and butchery, an area that is often clothed in secrecy. Indeed, a subject which farmer’s themselves allow to be pushed away even though, in itself, this can make, or ruin, the product of their tireless labour. There is much to consider and choices to be made, the consequences of which are far reaching across all aspects from animal welfare and food safety to food security and meat quality.

 

 

Cattle, Sheep and Pigs

 

In the UK, cattle, sheep and pigs that will enter the food chain must be slaughtered in a licensed facility that meets a very exacting set of standards which have been raised to a high requirement in recent years, particularly in the monitoring and independent assessment of these standards by Government officials. One could say that this requirement has brought to bear the management strategies of enormous businesses on the shoulders of many independent family businesses, smothering them under the weighty blanket of checking and accounting for standards that are at their very core.

 

The question has been asked as to whether this favours the mega-business who can afford to throw money at it but penalising the small business with mounting costs for a job always done with pride and to high standards. For food safety the organised and spotlessly clean facility is a must and both are equally able to deliver this. For animal welfare there is no doubt in our minds that small is beautiful and we feel so lucky to work with a small, family owned, independent slaughter and butchery businesses.

 

We continue to do all we can to support them and grow our business and theirs. We always encourage other local farmers to seek their services as an option for their livestock to keep them available to our community for the long term. We take our finished cattle, pigs and lambs here ourselves. Calmly and with respect they are handled by the people they know and delivered to the point of slaughter with reverence.

 

If you wish to see further details of this process, including slaughter, then we recommend that you borrow, or better still buy, a copy of “The River Cottage Meat Book” written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In his detailed assessment and presentation of the facts about the meat business he discusses these issues with aplomb. There are pictures of a normally unseen, yet crucial process, which we whole-heartedly support.

 

Our meat carcasses are matured hanging as whole sides and then quarters. Allowing the natural maturation of meat through this ‘hanging’ process is critical. Hung in a cold-store with good air circulation the meat becomes more tender, juicier and over time a much deeper flavour develops. In a large-scale business turning over meat in high volume, time is money. The longer the meat hangs, the more it costs the business, not only is it ‘holding up’ space in the factory, it is drying out, losing water, losing money.

 

An example of where this particularly makes a difference is in a simple ‘lb of mince’. The forequarters of the animal are often less valued (they are the parts that do a lot of work in life and don’t yield slabs of steak) and it is from here that much of the meat for beef mince is cut and prepared. Our sides of beef hang and mature as whole pieces and later as whole quarters, but always maturing along with the rest of the carcass. So, when our beef mince is prepared, it ‘brown’s’ beautifully in the pan (not leaving the slick of oily water that poor mince does). Simmered for Bolognese or simple savoury mince, the rich flavour is hard to beat.

 

So again, a plea, seek out those producers and food businesses that only practice good husbandry and butchers who actively employ time honoured techniques to deliver their end of the deal, with pride, with respect. The difference on the plate alone is worth it and the difference at every step of the supply chain is phenomenal.

 

 

Poultry

 

Well now we are getting to the really ugly stuff.

 

We feel compelled to tell you that if you can make one change to the meat that you eat, please let it be for chicken. The UK broiler industry (this is the term that is used to describe a chicken reared for meat as oppose to egg laying) is huge, horrific and hidden.

 

The British appetite for this type of protein is enormous. Manipulated into shapes of all sorts and often described by its coating, added flavour or packaging, added to which the incredible volumes of cheap, imported, frozen, defrosted, re-worked, preservative laden ‘chicken’ products aimed at our children through canteens in schools, widely available in supermarkets and ‘restaurants’, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

 

Others have and continue to champion the cause for better standards for ‘standard’ chicken. We support them and wish them luck. For us, a wholesale change was the only way we could continue to eat and enjoy poultry.

 

We designed and built our own poultry growing and slaughter facilities on our farm over 15 years ago in order to protect the integrity of our beautiful birds. At the time we commissioned equipment and standards that applied to business’ slaughtering 10,000 birds a week. At just 20 birds a week, in those days, this might have seemed a bit over the top, but our drive to do the best job we could for welfare and an excellent finished product meant first class facilities and equipment where and when it matters most.

 

We imported equipment designed for a smaller scale, but delivering a top-quality job from Italy, no coincidence there in that so many smaller scale farming/food businesses support a vibrant nation of foodies.

 

Our birds live in small colonies of 300 with freedom to range over our organic pasture, exploring, scratching, pecking, flocking, growing steadily and slowly. The lifespan of a commercial broiler chicken is a maximum of 40 days, but it can be as little as 28 days from the egg to the finished chicken. With concentrated feed and little room or encouragement to exercise, it comes as no surprise that they are fat, no, obese; often uncomfortable (too heavy for their underdeveloped legs), then suffering the indignity of being literally swept up in a ‘chicken catching’ frenzy, in the largest businesses by machine.

 

Our chickens on the other hand, grow and mature slowly, a minimum lifespan of 96 days when they are still very healthily charging about our paddocks.

 

When we take poultry for slaughter, every bird is handled individually, calmly, quietly. Collected from the field early in the morning the birds are taken straight to our facility in our familiar hands. Here they are individually stunned, effectively, an individual stun applied to one bird at a time that we carefully monitor. This renders the bird unconscious before slaughter. Our slaughtermen are licensed to deliver a fatal neck cut (as in every slaughter business) but the difference here is that every stun is checked, every cut is accurate, nothing is automated.

 

Continuing the plucking, chilling and dressing process buy hand allows us to keep the beautiful finish of our oven-ready birds that our customers enjoy. We always provide the pack of giblets (offal from the actual bird) tucked into the body cavity, essential when it comes to good gravy for a roast dinner.

 

In 2007 Will & Meg recorded an episode of ‘Jimmy Doherty’s Farming Heroes’ for BBC television and had the opportunity to talk openly to a very wide audience about their reasons for farming in this way and taking full responsibility down the line. Whilst preparing roast chicken with Jimmy in front of the cameras, Meg coined the phrase “This is chicken you can feel really good about”. In ten years since, this hasn’t changed.

Roots Family Farm Shop

Bransford Road

Rushwick, Worcestershire

WR2 5TD

Phone +44 1905 421104

 

Opening hours:

Monday – Saturday: 9am – 5pm Sunday: 10am – 1pm

 

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