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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Boozing Bovines

I read an article in the Farmers’ Forum recently highlighting a farm in Kelowna, B.C., where the beef cows are fed red wine. Apparently Farmers Janice Ravndahl and her brother Darrel Timm of Sezmu Farms (get it? “sez Moooo…”) give 100 of their 300-head herd a litre of red wine EACH every morning for the last 90 days of their lives! The farmers say the wine enhances the flavour of the beef – and it’s “the ultimate food and wine pairing”. I guess it is. The beef is going for close to $35 a kilo for the rib-eye at local butchers and restaurants in B.C., and they are looking to increase their market across Canada soon.

I think this story is a great example of a couple of things. First, I always admire farmers who take their business one step further, by creating their own unique brand of product. Some sheep farmers have a side business selling hand made wool creations. Some goat farmers sell their cheese on the side. Aubin farms of Spencerville has a fantastic offering of flavourful samosas and chutneys at the North Grenville Farmers’ Market every Sunday. These farmers are doing more than just raising their product and shipping it off to market. Perhaps they don’t have fulltime day jobs elsewhere. I don’t know how they find the time, but I admire their entrepreneurial attitude.

The story of the wine-fed cows also makes me smile because, according to the Sezmu farmers, the wine keeps the cows happy. They are constantly mooing after feeding, which is something they never did before. Apparently they are so loud with their drunken song, the farmers have switched their wine feeding to morning so that the bovine merry-making doesn’t keep the humans up all night. The wine is bought from local wineries, and if you’ve ever had B.C. wine you know it’s world class. These cows aren’t just drinking fermented grape juice over there. They’re getting the good stuff. What a nice send-off for these animals in the last three months of their lives.

My question is this. How do the Sezmu farmers decide which 100 of their 300 cows will be the lucky ones to enter the booze program? Is it the ones who have gained the most? The ones with the best temperament? Or is it the luck of the draw? When we got Betty and Ginger a couple of years ago, I read a study stating that cows are very intelligent animals. Mine have yet to prove that fact, of course, but still I am wondering, if they are so intelligent, don’t you think they know that some of them are getting preferential treatment? Some farmers believe that the mood of the animal pervades the meat. That is one of the reasons why we try to keep our animals content, particularly during the time leading up to market. If the wine makes the happy beef taste better, wouldn’t the opposite hold true for the cows that are feeling left out? Wouldn’t their meat be bland and tasteless as a result of their depression? I think this is something you have to consider.

Our fledgling beef herd is just starting out. We have only four cows and one bull at the moment. Maybe when that winery opens up down the road, we should try the bovine-wine connection ourselves. But if we do, you can be sure that none of our cows will be feeling left out. No one likes to drink alone.

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