Where others saw the issue of bobby calves in the dairy industry as a serious problem, the winners of this year’s Silver Fern Farms Market Leader award at the 2023 Beef+Lamb NZ Awards, Alan McDermott and Julia Galwey, saw an opportunity.
The co-founders and business partners joined the dots between Kiwi dairy farmers and leading chefs in New Zealand and Japan, and set out to make pasture-raised veal a staple on their menus – and eventually those of chefs all over the world.
Pearl Pastures contract farmers to pasture-raise dairy calves and have the animals processed for veal. Alan said although veal is sometimes viewed as a second-class product, he has yet to meet a chef who doesn’t love the ingredient.
“It’s actually a beautiful product, it’s absolutely incredible,” he said. “Anybody that eats it says it’s amazing. People have even told me it’s the best meat they’ve ever tasted.”
Through an agreement with dairy farmers, after the calves are weaned they are either kept on the dairy farm where they were born to be pasture-raised, or they are sent to another farm to be finished.
They are taken right through to 9-12 months, or 150kg carcase weight, after being reared and finished on a mixture of cow’s milk and pasture. From there they are processed and packaged at two different meat processors to be marketed and sold through Pearl Pastures.
Alan said there have been negative connotations around veal stemming from the coverage of bobby calves and poor practices around the world, but he thinks NZ is well-positioned to be a market leader.
“There’s this perception that veal is a bobby calf and so from a customer perspective that is terrible, and then the other one is ‘Oh veal, that’s where you store little calves away in the dark in small pens’ and that’s also terrible,” he said.
“But we [NZ dairy farmers] have incredibly high animal welfare outcomes, our calves are incredibly healthy, and as well as that the farmers that grow them just cannot believe how healthy they are compared to calves reared on milk powder.”
Animal welfare is front and centre for Pearl Pastures, with Alan saying it was the catalyst for the business.
“It gives the dairy farmers an opportunity to do something a bit different, and for the calves to have a life worth living,” he said.
“Our focus is all about animal welfare, and that’s what drove us to do this. It’s that there has to be a better way. We can’t keep sending bobby calves to the factory at four days old, or killing them on the farm at zero days.
“And then if we can create a beautiful product during that process, we should definitely do that.”