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Meet the producers: beef

Feeding alcohol to cattle can improve meat quality

Beef animals on François-Xavier Craquelin’s farm in Villequier in Seine-Maritime (halfway between Rouen and Le Havre) drink 15 litres of homemade organic cider a day, and when they go into their barns overnight they listen to classical music. (Jazz at the weekends.)

His unusual methods were inspired by Japanese Kobe beef producers who give their beef animals beer and Spanish beef farmers who give their livestock wine. “I aim to give my animals the best possible life in order to produce the best quality meat,” he says.

His farm stretches over 400 acres, eight of which are apple orchards. “It’s complementary, we make cider for the livestock ourselves, which controls the costs and ensures the quality.”

At anyone time he has 100 ‘Normande’ beef bullocks, 30 of which go to slaughter each year. “I finish the best 15 with four months’ of cider,” he says, “but that’s really the only difference between my standard beef and my cider beef. Apart from that, they all get the same high quality care.”

Drinking cider doesn’t make his bullocks drunk. “My beef animals weigh around 800 kilos, so in fact drinking 15 litres of cider is about the equivalent of a human drinking a litre and a half a day,” he says. “And the cider I give them isn’t particularly strong. But giving them cider for the last four months before slaughter spreads the fat more evenly through the muscles, improves the marbling and makes the meat more tender.”

He says that the more contented his bullocks are, the better the meat they produce. The one production step which he cannot control is slaughter. “I load my own animals, drive them to the abattoir myself and unload them, and that cuts out a lot of stress because I can do it without frightening them, but after that I admit it’s out of my hands.”

He says that farmers are increasingly discussing the actual slaughter of their animals. “Partly from the humanitarian point of view, but also because stress-free slaughter produces the best meat.” A bad abattoir can undo all a farmer’s hard work and produce tough meat. “It’s an important consideration,” he says.

The results certainly work. François-Xavier Craquelin’s beef is prize-winning, even in blind tastings, and restaurants in Rouen can’t get enough of it. “My order book is full,” he says.

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