Last week I was supposed to cook a London broil as my weekly steak, but a somewhat last-minute trip to visit another farm meant the London broil found a home in the freezer. I planned to cook it this week, but then remembered we had veal in the market and decided to try that instead. So the London broil is still chilling in the freezer until I get around to using it.
I don’t normally eat veal. Wyebrook doesn’t normally sell veal. That is why I felt I had to try it. Veal is calf meat. That is half of what makes it such a controversial meat. Most people don’t cringe at eating a fully-grown steer, but a young calf is a different story. It doesn’t help that conventional veal operations aren’t known for their humane and caring practices.
This veal wasn’t just any veal. It was 306, a calf I knew personally. He was one of the first calves born this year. His mother didn’t have a clue. She didn’t even know she’d given birth, much less what to do with him. Ryan tubed and bottle fed him for several days to help get him going, but with calving season in full swing, we couldn’t give him the time he needed and no one expected him to make it.
But he did.
He was always behind or off by himself, but he managed to nurse enough off the other moms that he actually started to grow. His back left leg never worked properly, but he managed. When the heifers made the long trek across the creek, he kept up with the herd and when they made the long move from the pasture by the circle woods back to the pasture below Dean’s house, he wasn’t the slowest one. Steve, Ryan and I were all cheering for him as he hobbled along with the group. We all started to believe he’d be OK.
A few weeks ago we noticed he’d injured his front right leg. He could have strained it trying to run or twisted it in a groundhog hole. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that it wasn’t getting better. We observed him for a while and the poor thing was clearly miserable and in a great deal of pain. He could no longer keep up with the group. Short moves left him completely exhausted. There was no way he could manage the upcoming longer moves.
We had two options: do nothing and let nature take its toll or send him in as veal. He was obviously in pain and needed to be put out of his misery. Even Steve, who is probably the most compassionate one on the farm, thought it was time. Ryan could have shot him, but to what end? He would have simply gone on the compost pile where he would have been eaten by vultures. His purpose from birth was to someday become beef. For 306, that time just came a little earlier than anticipated. By taking him in as veal, we honored his short life and his purpose.
I know 306 was well cared for and that he was given the best shot possible at having a full life. When it became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen, we did the next best thing by allowing his death to serve a purpose. In death he gave something back to those who cared for him in life.
The only veal dishes I was familiar with were veal parmigiana and wiener schnitzel. Both of those call for cutlets and there weren’t any by the time I got around to it. Instead I went with veal shank which is the main ingredient in osso buco. The shanks are braised for an hour or two in stock and wine with carrots, celery, and onions. I served it over polenta with a side of mashed cauliflower. It was a hit. Both my mom and dad liked it. Mom was pretty skeptical when I told her I was making osso buco. I’m not sure if it was the veal or just me cooking that made her nervous. Either way, the meal won her over and I didn’t burn down the house.