Scottish Highland cattle, humanely raised and good to eat
|These shaggy and sweet-faced Scottish Highland cattle live outdoors all year round in Geauga County.|
I've been enamored of Scottish Highland cattle since I first encountered them in the highlands and on the islands of Scotland about 20 years ago. They're shaggy, with big horns and look a little like yaks, but they are sociable and sweet-looking, with long eyelashes and a docile demeanor that exhibited itself when they came over to the fence where I stood photographing them.
So when I discovered that local farmer Scott Boehnlein is raising Scottish Highland cattle and selling the meat to top chefs around town, I had to know more.
Turns out he chose to raise them for a number of reasons, including their wonderful temperment. Since the Boehnleins have eight kids who work around the farm he thought that would be important. The animals are also very hearty and prefer to be outdoors summer and winter. Their heavy coats protect them in the same way extra layers of fat protect other beef cattle. When Scott told me their meat is very tender since it's marbled with fat throughout, I knew I had to taste it.
Scott's cattle live outdoors and feed mostly on grass, supplemented by flax seed, which is rich in Omega 3. They're very healthy and are not fed anything with antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified organisms. The Boehnleins need to buy their feed since they don't have enough space on their hilly farm to raise it. Their cattle live as free-ranging creatures until they are slaughtered at 30 to 32 months old - almost three years old - in contrast to beef raised in feed lots which are slaughtered at 18 months. Obviously it costs less to raise beef in factory farms since the animals are fed lots of corn which helps them put on weight so they can be taken to slaughter younger.
The Boehnleins also raise Berkshire pigs, another very hardy and disease resistant breed, which go to slaughter when they're younger. In five months they go from eight pounds to 250 pounds.
I've heard that in Japan, where meat from Berkshire pigs is called Kurobuta pork, it's the most prized meat of all. Berkshires are one of the oldest breeds known to exist and is the only pork eaten by Britain's Royals. The large herd of Black Berkshires kept by the royal family at Windsor castle are descended from a gift to the British royals by the Japanese royals.
When I went out to the Boehnleins' farm to research a story due to publish Nov. 12, I bought a porterhouse steak and some pork chops. The meat was expensive, but it's so good many of the area's top chefs are buying it.
I hope that the Boehnleins' belief that profit is secondary to the importance of respecting these animals and allowing them to roam freely is something that can be sustained. They've got my support, for sure, because it's also what I believe.
The steak was one of the best I've ever eaten, and I'll let you know soon what I think of the pork chops. The video here shows the process from farm to my table and introduces you two of the Boehnlein daughters.