The veal deal


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WAIKOLOA, Big Island » Logic seems stacked in favor of Robby Hind's veal experiment.

Logic, gas prices, feed costs, environmental and humanitarian concerns—all that.

“;Today, given shipping costs, we're trying to reduce our carbon footprint, trying to get it to a carbon hoofprint,”; Hind says.

The owner of Daleico Ranch in Kamuela has a new product—veal from calves raised on the pasture with their mothers. It's an idea growing in favor nationwide, as ranchers and chefs seek a way of bringing this prime meat to the table in a manner that addresses concerns about animal cruelty.

The usual commercial method for producing veal is to take a calf from its mother and raise it to about 6 months of age in a crate or small pen where its movements are limited. The animal is fed a milk replacement, which, along with the lack of exercise, produces a tender, white meat often called milk-fed veal.

Pasture-raised veal takes on a pink color, from the grass that the calf eats along with its mother's milk. It's becoming known in the industry as red veal.

“;It's out with its mother in the pasture, never had a shot, never had a brand on it,”; Hind said. “;Natural.”;

Most of Daleico Ranch cattle is now shipped to the mainland at age 6 months and about 500 pounds, where the animals are put to pasture for another five months, then transferred to feedlots where they're given grain until they reach about 1,200 pounds. Most of the meat is sold to Whole Foods Markets nationwide.

After subtracting all those costs, Hind said, each of the 800 animals he harvests yearly earns him about $400, a little more than half of the selling price.

“;We're so efficient at getting calves to weaning age ... If we could just eliminate all those other steps, it just makes so much sense.”;

Hind introduced his veal at A Taste of the Hawaiian Range, held Oct. 3 at the Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island. Chef Edwin Goto of the Mauna Lani Resort used the meat from one calf, about 140 pounds, to make pastrami, corned beef, grilled striploin, stew and burgers.

Goto said he was impressed by the meat, finding it lean and more flavorful than traditional veal. The color was a bit darker, but it was still light and tender. “;I would use it the same way as any veal.”;

Response from Taste attendees, among them many chefs, was better than expected, Hind said. “;It was so well-received, I've got people calling me—'What supermarket can I find it in?'”;

The answer to that is none. That animal was the one and only. Hind's next step is to process 10 more—they're on the pasture now and will be ready in about two weeks—then distribute the meat to chefs and see what cuts they prefer. He's so encouraged, though, that he expects he can have his red veal on the market by April, another six-month growing period from now.

Glen Fukumoto, county extension agent with the University of Hawaii's Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, said initial research on locally grown veal was done 15 years ago, but the idea is more viable now, with gas and feed prices on the rise.

It's likely today, he said, that a rancher could get more per pound for veal than regular beef, which makes up for the fact that each animal yields less meat than the usual market-weight yearling. Changing “;the paradigm of negativity of traditional veal,”; he added, will make it a strong product for the local industry.

Hind's first customers will be restaurants, with supermarkets to follow if all goes well. The time has come to make the effort, Hind said, given both a growing interest in natural products and rising costs.

“;It's not crazy when you think about all that.”;