The cows stand outside with their calves, soaking up the sun of an unusually warm January afternoon. One cow is bawling insistently. She just lost her calf an hour ago. It’s her own fault really – Markus tells me she wouldn’t let the calf near her for the first two days and it lost that very important first colostrum milk. He got a substitute from the vet, but the calf never did do well.
Immediately after the calf died, Markus went on the Swiss cattle identification website to report the death. Each animal is registered on the site, which farmers can access directly to report to. An animal’s every movement must be reported – when it is sold, or even just sent to the community pasture for the summer, and its return home.
Markus Stamm (no relative to us, nor to Walter Stamm from my last blog) is one of many Swiss dairy farmers that switched to beef some years ago. Beef production has become so popular that a beef cow is more expensive to purchase now than a dairy cow. The loss of the milk quota a year ago probably contributed to this scenario. In contrast to Walter, who buys calves and feeds them out, Markus holds cow/calf pairs and raises the calves to slaughter weight at ten months. By doing so, and ensuring that the cattle have free access to the outdoors, he qualifies for the label ‘Natura Beef’. This is the Coop label, one of Switzerland’s largest grocery chains.
The Coop’s competitor, Migros, has its own label – ‘Bio Weide Beef’ (Organic pastured beef). Migros beef is raised on organic pastures, but the calves aren’t necessarily raised with their mother.
Markus raises some conventional beef too. That means the cattle are always inside, usually on slatted floors, in quite confined conditions compared to a Canadian feedlot. He gets 10 Swiss Francs per Kilo slaughtered weight for the ‘Natura Beef’, and eight Francs per Kilo for the conventional beef. (The Swiss Franc is about on par with the Canadian Dollar.)
I admire the pure bred Limousin bull. Most of Markus’ cows are a mix of Fleckvieh with Limousin, or Brown Swiss with Limousin. He likes a mix of the dairy cow with the beef cow, as the weight gain of his calves is primarily from their mother’s milk.
As with Walter and Doris the week before, the conversation inevitably turns to the restrictive regulations, and the even more restrictive ones coming up. Markus tells me that many farmers will quit when the next round comes into effect – i.e. forbidding the sole use of slatted floors for even conventional cattle. Making the necessary adjustments will just be too expensive. Or maybe they just don’t want to play the game anymore.