We have two cow breeds on the farm: a herd of Salers and five Mirandaise heifers. These cow breeds have some differences. Mirandaise are plains cows that like the hot sun and grow large and strong to work the ground under the vines, whereas Salers are mountain cows that give a fair amount of milk and are well protected from the cold when they put on their winter coats.
In the photos above and below there are three heifers, all about a year and a half in age. The Mirandaise is skinny and tall and the Salers are much stockier with more muscle and carrying a lot more weight on their deep chest. They’ve all been on the farm the same amount of time and have been together in the same herd. What you are seeing is how the genetics of the two breeds work out on our farm.
This has a lot of impact on how we want to farm. Based on their history of crossing with British Devon cattle, I’d guess that the Salers will mature earlier and make good marbled beef at a younger age. Do these photos show the evidence of this earlier maturity or is it something else? It could be that the Salers just do better on the grass at our farm, or that they like the sunnier weather of the Gers. Either way, a better finished carcass lets us hang the beef to produce more flavor.
We call the Salers heifers ‘Ewoks’ because to us they look short and fat. They are large compared with British breeds, but are definitely smaller than the Blondes, Limousines and Charolaises we see.
The Mirandaise heifer above may seem skinny, but she could end up like Etamine here who is a year older, built like a tank and top heifer. She’s nearly three and I think she has finally finished putting on frame and is now gaining condition.
The gourmet age to finish a heifer here in the Gers is at three years. For a steer you’re looking at four or five years. This is based on the old farmers’ experiences with Mirandaise cattle and more recently with Blondes d’Aquitaine. [You can see that with Etamine above.]
We’ve eaten Blonde finished at two years by one of the most experienced farmers around here and it was young enough to be moist and tender but it was completely lacking in taste. We’ve had similar experiences with the beef you buy in the butcher and the supermarket. Those larger cows need longer to get to finish quality.
For the Salers, we’ve had steaks from a heifer finished at two years and they were fantastic: a deep red color and full of flavor. [And with two US spellings in one sentence!] We cooked some well done and it was still tasty.
The web site for the Salers race is at salers.org and it has a page on the types of finished Salers beef – veal, heifer, young bull, steer and cull cow. What is interesting to me is they list the finish age for a heifer at 24-30 months and a steer at 30 months. That is way younger than the age the locals recommend for their cows. Maybe my hunch that Salers finish earlier will prove to be correct? We’ll find out in 2012.