Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cold Weather Cows

This has been a tough winter for many areas in the US with temperatures dropping each night. Cattle need a lot more roughage and feed to keep them going and fattening is more difficult this time of year. So which cattle do best? Aberdeen Angus, being dark, absorb more sunshine and are a hearty breed to start with. Scotland has its share of cold damp weather so Angus do well in cold weather. But there is another Scottish breed that shines above all other winter cattle, Scotch Highland. The Highland have thick wooly coats and are well suited for this weather. They have been known to wander outside at temeratures well below zero and they don't mind the snow due to the oily content of their hair. They are so well protected by their double layered hair and thick hides that they minimize the need for a heavy subcutaneous fat and therefore the energy from its feed can form more marbling within the meat itself and its overall yield is higher. In warm weather they sometimes shed their thick coats. These cattle are excellent foragers and can be raised on grass alone but will also perform well on a hay/grain finish. They are somewhat smaller than typical crossbred meat cattle with a live weight at about 1,000 lbs meaning the end product foodservice cuts will be about 30% smaller. This is general and there are some that are allowed to grow larger, beyond the typical slaughter age of 18 months. The smaller size could be an advantage for restaurants wanting to do a high end small but flavorful beef portion. It might be ideal for a multi-course dinner or tasting menu.

Highland beef are raised in the many states with herds found in Vermont, Minnesota, but also down into Texas. The cattle are great foragers and can live on some relatively harsh pasture. Highland have a great eye appeal when out on pasture so they are a favorite among "hobby" farmers who only want a few head. But it is gaining notariety as a viable heritage meat breed. It is now found on menus and at local farmers markets. It is a difficult animal to feedlot finish due to the amount of hair and its large horns so it isn't popular with any large scale feeding operations. Many of the small farmers are finishing on grass when in season but this time of year they need more energy so they are fed silage and grains.

As the thermometer plummets, restaurants looking to present truly seasonal dishes this one makes sense this time of year!