• Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Vermont is facing many challenges when it comes to local meat production: Grazing land is expensive, there aren’t enough facilities in which to process animals, and many residents refrain from buying local meat because they don’t know how to cook the unusual cuts sold by small farms. What exactly do you do with a pork loin or lamb shoulder?

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  • A Breed Apart

    A Breed Apart

    On a 40-acre hillside in Corinth, Ben Machin raises a flock of 60 Tunis sheep. They’re a “heritage breed”—a domesticated breed of animal that has a long genetic history but is now endangered. As industrial agriculture continues to rely on just a few breeds designed for maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, more sustainable farmers are raising heritage breeds as an alternative—and to save them. Ben, a 35-year-old farmer who also works as a forester with Redstart Forestry and Consulting, is managing the flock that his great-grandfather started in the 1920s. Local Banquet editor Caroline Abels recently spoke with Ben about his unique sheep and why heritage breeds matter.

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  • A Boost to the Butchers

    A Boost to the Butchers

    In March 2009, in an attempt to help strengthen Vermont’s meat-processing infrastructure, the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program awarded $40,000 in grants to four facilities. For recipient Tony Brault, it was perfect timing; he had been planning to add on a spiffy retail area to his slaughterhouse. But for grantee Gary Barnes, who runs a meat market, the amount he was awarded would barely begin to cover the cost of adding on a separate processing area for wild game, so as of this writing, he had not collected the grant funds. Nevertheless, the grants helped both of these meat facilities in northern Vermont, with and without funding, and here’s how.

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  • We Have Sausage

    We Have Sausage

    Late in life my father was able to get the spicy breakfast sausage he loved as a kid sent north to him from the general store in the small southern town where he grew up. It was better than caviar, he once noted. Packed in dry ice, it was shipped only in the winter, when the weather was safe for fresh meat to travel. And when my infrequent visits home coincided with those deliveries, he would call out in greeting the welcome words, “We have sausage!”

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Close to Home

    Close to Home

    We’ve always believed that if you eat meat you should be able to kill it. We had our chance to put our beliefs into action this year.

    On two very different days, one in early July, the second in late October, we gathered with four friends to kill the 30 chickens and 10 turkeys we had co-raised. Although this past July wasn’t the hottest on record, the day we gathered was warm and the rain held off. On a cold and raw late October morning we met up again to process turkeys and a few older laying hens.

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  • Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    It’s bad luck to be born a boy—on a dairy farm, that is. A farmer’s face will often fall at the sight of a newborn male calf, who obviously will never grow up to produce milk. “Girl?” someone might ask on hearing of a birth on the farm. “Nope—a bull,” the farmer might say. “I’ll call the truck.”

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  • Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    It all starts with a single surprising statistic: 40,000 mature dairy cows leave the state each year. They are so-called “market cows”—dairy cattle who have stopped producing milk at an economically viable rate. They are culled from their herds and trucked primarily to Pennsylvania, where they and other cows from the Northeast are slaughtered and processed. Their meat then enters the industrial food distribution system.

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  • Windowsill Greens

    Windowsill Greens

    In the dead of winter—when fresh salad greens are scarce, expensive, and probably not local—I grow shoots (the stem and first leaves of a plant grown in soil) and have fresh, colorful, crispy, and delicious greens that are ready to use every day. Pea shoots, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, radish greens, and broccoli greens are my favorites—they offer a fantastic mix of flavors and make a great-looking tossed salad. Shoots are also inexpensive and easy to grow, benefit your compost pile, and provide colorful trays of growing plants that can make the dark days of winter a little brighter. Good-bye cabin fever!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    North Branch Farm, in the mountains of Ripton, is an unlikely place for ducks, but we’ve been raising them on a very small scale each summer for the last four years. Pekins are our favorite meat ducks to raise—they’re fast growing and white and beautiful. And they have lots of fat.

    “Lots of fat?” you might ask. “Why would we want that?” Or maybe you already know. Local duck fat is a localvore’s dream. Any food lover’s dream, actually. It is delicious to cook with as a replacement for oil or butter, and it keeps beautifully in a glass jar in the fridge.

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  • Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    I stopped eating meat at the impassioned age of 14, when a biology teacher showed a film called Diet for a New America, which graphically described the many and various evils of the modern meat industry. I dumped that day’s turkey sandwich in the garbage and didn’t touch meat again for nine years. My reasoning was three-fold: I believed that vegetarianism was better for my body, better for the planet, and decreased the total suffering of the world. I knew that certain responsible farming practices could, in theory, mitigate or overcome most of my objections to meat, but I’d never seen them in practice and didn’t know how to judge them or trust their claims.

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  • How to cut a chicken

    How to cut a chicken

    The kitchen skills of our grandparents have largely gone unused since the appearance of ready-made foods in American grocery stores. Yet if we want to eat local food, we must often cook from scratch. Here is a guide to cutting a whole, uncooked chicken—a necessary skill if we want to eat the fresh local birds that Vermonters are beginning to raise again in large numbers. Once you’ve broken down a chicken, you’re good to go with all sorts of recipes!

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Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience


Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

December 01 , 2009

It’s bad luck to be born a boy—on a dairy farm, that is. A farmer’s face will often fall at the sight of a newborn male calf, who obviously will never grow up to produce milk. “Girl?” someone might ask on hearing of a birth on the farm. “Nope—a bull,” the farmer might say. “I’ll call the truck.”

In a day or two, a trailer dispatched by a local auction house or cattle agent might shuttle the bull away, unless the farmer wants to keep it as breeding stock or raise it for beef. The farmer might get $25 for the animal (if that) and never think of it again.

But if it’s a typical Vermont dairy bull—one of the 60,000 estimated to be born in the state each year—it will be slaughtered in a few days to become part of a processed meat product such as bologna, hot dogs, or beef flavoring. Or it will be shipped to an industrial veal operation in the Midwest or Canada, where it will spend four months in a narrow, isolated crate, unable to turn around, and be fed formula designed to make it borderline anemic.


Unless it’s a bull born on one of a handful of Vermont dairy farms that are choosing to raise some of their bull calves as milk-fed veal. On these farms, calves are allowed to roam on pasture or prance in a spacious pen with other calves. They get to drink milk (either from their mother or other lactating cows) and once they’re older they can enjoy fresh grass or hay.

What makes these happier lives possible? Simply put, it’s our—the consumer’s—willingness to eat veal that’s more pinkish in color and has a slightly different flavor than the white veal that comes from industrially raised calves. In no other animal-based agricultural industry does a slight difference in the color and taste of the meat make such a difference in the life of the animal that provided it.

Milk-fed, or rose-colored, veal can also make a difference in the lives of Vermont dairy farmers. Those who turn baby bulls into lucrative cuts of veal can supplement their milk income—and in these days of rock-bottom milk prices, that means bull calves can help a farmer keep the milk flowing.


“The reason I got started doing veal was because my customers were begging me to do it. They loved veal but they didn’t want to eat the cruelly raised kind.”

So says Lisa Kaiman, who runs Jersey Girls Dairy in Chester, which provides milk to Consider Bardwell Farm for its cheese. She could relate to her customers’ unease. To avoid sending her bull calves to industrial veal facilities or out-of-state slaughterhouses, Kaiman used to give her calves to fellow farmers and friends. “I couldn’t sleep at night if I sent them to any of those places,” she says.

But three years ago she began raising her bulls in spacious indoor pens where they drink fresh milk from “free feeders” and eat hay. (Industrial veal calves are given milk replacer that deliberately keeps their iron and fiber levels low, thus producing pallid meat.) As most humane veal farmers do, Kaiman sometimes feeds the calves milk that is not of high enough quality for humans. Then when her calves are roughly 400 lbs. and four months of age, she ships them to The Royal Butcher, a certified-humane slaughterhouse in Randolph.

The meat—sold to individual customers, local chefs, and New Yorkers at the Union Square Greenmarket—fetches her at least $300 an animal. Given that she raises 10 to 15 calves a year, her veal is now a significant source of farm income. It’s why she calls bull calves “the most underutilized asset on a dairy farm.”

Chef Jason Tostrup, executive chef and co-owner of The Inn at Weathersfield, buys three to four whole calves from Jersey Girls Dairy each year, and praises the veal for its “deep characteristics of flavor.” He turns it into dishes like Veal Bolognese and Jersey Girls veal hash (a concoction of veal, caramelized onion, wild onion, and a poached local duck egg). He says the hash is a hit whenever he serves it on the restaurant’s nightly “Butcher’s Plate,” a dish that showcases a particular local meat.

In a sign that tastes and morals are indeed changing, serious foodies are becoming enamored with rose-colored veal—at least according to the food sections of big-city newspapers—and it is appearing more often on the menus of high-end restaurants.


But what about folks cooking at home? On average, American consumption of veal has dropped from one pound per person in 1988 to .41 lbs. in 2004. (It was a whopping 8.6 lbs. in 1944, when the American dairy industry was exploding in growth and farmers needed to do something with their bull calves.)

Part of the reason for the drop—some say the main reason—is the success of various anti-veal campaigns. In the 1980s, animal welfare organizations started persuading the public that intense confinement of industrial veal calves was harmful and unnatural. This led to some industry changes, but the vast majority of veal calves still live in intense confinement. Recently, citizen pressure has led five states to require that veal calves have enough space in their crates to turn around and extend their limbs.

Ironically, though, the anti-veal campaigns were so successful that today’s humane veal farmers must convince customers that their product is different. It can take some long conversations at the farmers’ market to reach that place of understanding.

“They say, ‘But that’s what veal is, it’s calves in little boxes,’ and I’m like, ‘No, at our place it’s on its mother, it’s in the pasture…” says John Clark ofApplecheek Farm in Hyde Park. Tyler Webb of Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield says customers used to “shrink back and shudder” when he even said the word “veal.”

Ultimately, Vermonters will buy veal not simply to support animal welfare but because it tastes good. Local veal can be expensive (around $7/lb. for ground veal and up to around $29/lb. for tenderloin) so it needs to be worth it. It costs more because the fluid milk that farmers would otherwise sell is instead going into the calves; the price received for the veal needs to exceed the price received for the milk.

Clark says that is true at his farm: he is currently earning slightly more from his veal than he would have for the milk. He and his wife, Rocio, who ship organic milk from a herd of 75 cows to Horizon, keep about eight calves a year and sell their veal at farmers’ markets and through their meat CSA. The calves (unlike Kaiman’s, which are indoors) are rotated on the farm’s 120 acres of pasture during the warmest months.

No one knows how many calves are raised for veal in Vermont; the number is so negligible that the National Agricultural Statistics Service doesn’t even track it. Asked why more dairy farmers don’t raise some veal on the side, Clark says, “I think most dairy farmers are not into direct marketing. They’re used to just shipping their milk out and having it sold for them.” In addition, farmers may not have the time to raise calves (though Kaiman and Clark say it’s not labor-intensive), or they may not have adequate paddocks or pens in which to raise the bulls.

A company called Azuluna Brands is trying to make it easier for dairy farmers to raise veal by taking care of the marketing and distribution part. Started in Massachusetts in 2004, Azuluna provides farmers with humane standards by which to raise bull calves. The meat is then sold under the Azuluna name at Whole Foods stores throughout New England. Three Vermont dairy farms and two others in Connecticut and Massachusetts currently sell veal to Azuluna, which also markets specialty eggs from New England family farms, and possibly lamb and pork in the future.

Ted Kolota, the marketing director for Azuluna, says veal is still a hard sell. But he adds, “What’s changing is people’s ability to associate their food with an animal. People are taking an enlightened attitude about that, and they’re ready to be educated on the next part—the reality around dairy bulls.”


It’s difficult to grasp the irony that in order to give bull calves a shot at a decent life, we may need to consume them. More humane veal bought from Vermont dairy farms means fewer calves going to industrial operations or being slaughtered a few days after birth at facilities where there may or may not be adequate inspection for humane handling.

Many Vermonters were no doubt shocked by the allegations of animal abuse leveled in October against Bushway Packing, a slaughterhouse in Grand Isle that processed only days-old calves (known as “bob calves”). Perhaps some were just as shocked that dairy calves that young were being killed there. Many milk drinkers are not aware of the staggering number of births that must take place to keep cows in lactation—and that baby bulls are so unwanted.

“It seems a shame to treat these living creatures as an unnecessary waste stream,” says Webb of Stony Pond Farm, where newborn calves are kept with their mothers for a week before heading to an open-air barn and then summer pastures. “We decided we couldn’t let that happen on our farm, that we had to make a commitment to allowing them to express their full nature of ‘calfness.’ ”

But he and his wife Melanie’s commitment must be matched by a commitment from customers. Happily, sales of their veal at the Burlington Farmers’ Market are strong, as are sales of the veal shares they advertise on their website—$300 for a 35 lb. box of cuts. Their customers value the taste of the meat and the humane practices that went into the raising of it.

“The other day we were joking around, wondering if we should create a new name for our veal,” Webb says. “Then we were like, no, let’s stick with it.” But, he adds, “I’m hoping we can revolutionize veal again.”

Photo by Caroline Abels

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

Comments (2)

  • Heather Jerge Delude

    25 October 2016 at 17:29 |
    I'm starting to raise bull calf for veal they are pasture raised and being feed mothers milk. I'm wondering what company's are interested in buying veal cuz I do not want to ship them to the auction. If you could contact me and let me know I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you


  • Bob Heisler

    02 May 2015 at 12:36 |
    There is no humane meat, some is just more inhumane then others. The only cruelty free dietary lifestyle is veganism. And the extra benefits are that you live a longer, healthier life and save money.


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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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Home Stories Issues 2010 Winter 2010 | Issue 11 Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience