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Jun 15, 2013 02:00 AM

Old Cows for meat

About to buy an 8-12 year old mother cow for the restaurant I work at. Do any of you have experience in taking care of a cow that old? I think I'll have to leave it hanging whole for at least a month. Then cut it down and leave some part hanging even more. What should I look out for and so on? Anyone?

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  1. Is buying the old animal is a 'done deal'? Because I'd recommend not getting a cow at the end of her breeding life; it will most probably be very poor meat.
    Have you hung/broken down a carcass before?
    If not, be warned that it can be an extremely challenging job!
    For starters, is there the chiller space for a very large, really heavy carcass to hang for a long time without getting in the way or creating food safety issues?
    Does the chiller have the neccessary strength and hanging gear?
    What kind of restaurant? If the plan is to make loads of slow-cooked dishes like stews, curries etc, well...maybe...ish...

    30 Replies
    1. re: pippimac

      Thanks for quick response! I haven't bought anything yet and I'm gonna do a bit more research beforehand.

      Why do you think it will be poor meat? Is that from what you've heard or is it based on actual experience eating that kind of meat? Because what I've heard from people that has actually tasted it is that it can be pretty amazing (but very different)? I don't know myself, but I suppose it can be both good and bad depending on a numerous different things, and that's why I'm asking.

      The hanging and butchering will all be taken care of by professional butchers at the slaughterhouse (sorry I forgot to tell you that detail :D). But I will have a close dialog with them so that I can be in control of how long I want it to hang and how I want it butchered. I might bring back a smaller part of the back or so for further tenderizing at the restaurant but there's no way I can fit in anything bigger than that, so don't worry :)...

      My plan is to use different parts for different things like you normally do. But I will have to decide when I see the meat and I hope some parts will have the right quality and amount of fat for to be hanging a couple of months in total. But I can get the whole cow butchered and packed if I want to so it's really up to me how big of a risk I'm willing to take experimenting with different parts and so on...

      But it's really really hard to get hold of good quality beef (especially here in scandinavia) and old cows like this, almost impossible in any other way than this. And I refuse to think that it's because of the taste/meat, I think it's almost entirely because of how the market is.

      1. re: pippimac

        Europe's beef supply is primarily older animals -- typically 5-7 year of age (and the information is posted for public scrutiny right on the front of the butcher case)

        there's no degradation of quality whatsoever.

        The animals in Europe are primarily free-range, and there is no feedlot system like in the US, so the meat is definitely more chewy -- but that's as much a function of muscle development and the fact that Europe doesn't age beef as it is a function of the age of the animal.

        The flavor of the meat is quite spectacular, even as steaks and other quick/dry preparation methods.

        1. re: sunshine842

          Really? Hmm, animals older than 3 years is very rare here in Sweden, at least from what I've heard, could be wrong though. Do you have any source of statistics? And I'm pretty sure they don't post age and sex on the packages, though it's been a while since I bought meat of the supermarket :), I wish they did though.

          NIce to hear. Where does the assumption come from then? That older animals give worse meat...

          1. re: kjellander

            several years of actually buying meat in France, and physically seeing the information sheets with my own eyes.

            Only rarely in the chain supermarkets (Carrefour et al), *always* in the smaller supermarkets (Intermarche and the small independents)

            I can't imagine where the assumption that older automatically means worse. Some sort of misplaced ethnocentric sense of superiority, I suppose.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Not that this really means anything. In Bourdain's visit to Burgundy on No Reservations, the local butcher notes that the cow was butchered young, and had never been bred. He seemed to imply that was the best and more tender.

          2. re: sunshine842

            Hi, sunshine: "[T]here's no degradation of quality whatsoever."

            When was Escoffier proven wrong about this? I missed it somehow.


            1. re: kaleokahu

              Escoffier didn't buy yearling feed-lot beef.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Hi, sunshine:

                Yes of course, but that is beside the point. Escoffier addresses how old cattle are generally less desirable than younger ones. I seem to recall that 3 yrs was a kind of dividing line.

                We can lament cow-and-calf programs feedlots churning out yearlings into the foodstream, but that's a different issue.


                1. re: kjellander

                  Hi, Kjel:

                  I believe his seminal cookbook was published in 1903. And it was his *opinion*.

                  But if you pull Carême's 5-volume "L'Art de la cuisine française au dix-neuvième siècle. Traité élémentaire et pratique", you'll probably find the same conclusion being espoused sometime just after 1833.


                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    I'm not that familiar with Escoffier but wasn't he all about the very best of the best?

                    For many of us life is not that perfect.

                    I believe that the ideal beef would be from a beef breed that was raised to three years of age with his eventual slaughter in mind from birth to death.

                    For a farmer to raise beef that way he would have to receive considerably more money per pound for the animal to make the same profit that he would selling younger animals. Two if not three times as much I would guess.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Yeah I have the Escoffier book, haven't seen that "quote" though. But I don't doubt it at all! That's the common gastronomic opinion as well and I believe a lot of those comes from Escoffier. As we all know a lot has changed since then both in the way we raise and cook beef :)... And I think that opinion was more of a cultural influenced statement rather than based on him actually researching and trying. But that's just what I THINK :)..

                2. re: sunshine842

                  USDA defines cow meat separately than regular beef, and it usually costs about a third the price. It's butchered specifically from "spent" dairy cows. My friend who used to own a dairy farm, she too sold it off as close to garbage, they called them cull cows. Is mostly sold to niche markets, especially the ones that do AYCE. So I'm pretty darn sure there's a difference, and it's not a good one.

                  1. re: coll

                    However the OP is, if I didn't misunderstand, purchasing a Hereford which is a traditional beef breed, not dairy. Comparing the meat value of a dairy cow to a meat breed would be like comparing the meat value of a Toggenburg goat to a Boer goat.

                    1. re: Firegoat

                      Yes I just realized the difference. I only know from selling, not raising. Cow meat was always looked down on! Just trying to help, in my own weird way.

                      1. re: coll

                        It wouldn't be my first choice of a beef on the hoof to go to, but then again I live in a cattle mecca. I have read a lot of homesteading sites about slaughtering the older cow and a lot of people do have good results. As long as she's healthy, and I tend to agree about maybe the filter organs should be a pass.

                    2. re: coll

                      Prices are set by the demand, like on any free market, not very much by the actual quality or potential quality of a product. Of course the quality affect demand but I think cultural influences do so to a higher extent in this case. Liver for example, is super cheap even though I think it's one of the best parts.

                      I think we all agree on that old cows are not valued very high in the business, but I think it's because of inherited biases saying it's "poor meat"...

                      1. re: kjellander

                        "Inherited Bias"......I don't buy the Bias part. Most consumers know very little about the beef industry and even less about breeds & age.

                        Tenderness has been ranked a top factor by consumers and on average an 8 - 12 year old cow ain't gonna make the cut in that department.

                        My understanding is that most of it is ground and mixed with imported coarse ground or used for other types of processed foods.

                        1. re: Tom34

                          Not consumers, they just buy what's on the shelf. I'm talking bout chefs and people in the meat industry. But above all it's about the money... without a doubt.

                          "ain't gonna make the cut..." Compared to what? To the main stream beef in supermarkets? It absolutely will, since a lot of it is young bulls, which is probably the thoughest kind of beef you'll get..

                          1. re: kjellander

                            kjellander, I see from your profile that you have not posted very much here. It is futile to try to change anybody's mind about what they think or to get a consensus here. Facts, experience? Doesn't matter. You can go buy the cow and come back in three months and tell us it was the best beef you have ever had. Folks will still tell you that it is no good.

                            1. re: kengk

                              I think your idea of a dicussion is very different from mine and it's obvious you get me all wrong. I'm not trying to change anybody's mind or opinion (maybe my own). You see I post my thoughts on this subject to see what others opinions are and if there's something there I just didn't think of I'm willing to change my mind, but just for my own sake. I don't really care if we agree or not, I just want to learn and see where I might be wrong, so that I can make better choices based on a number of different perspectives.

                              I respect all opinions and I appreciate you guys taking time and posting. Even if I don't agree I will still have all those opinions in mind when I make my decisions, and I might realise later that some of you were actually right, who knows.

                            2. re: kjellander

                              Compared to a high choice / low prime steak product like CAB or Sterling Silver.

                              As for restaurant owners, they would buy the ever living Sh*t out of old dairy cows at 1/3 the cost of CAB if it were as good in steak form.

                              I am not saying its terrible, just very different from what the US consumer wants which is why most of it ends up G/B or processed into products like Swanson TV dinners. .

                              1. re: Tom34

                                Well, that's hard to say. But I wouldn't say no either. I don't think it would be fair to treat them exactly the same. I think it needs to age longer to begin with, which somehow sounds pretty logic to me.

                                I don't think a lot of restaurant owners ever tried a well aged old diary cow, that's what I'm trying to say. A lot of chefs just think they know stuff because they were thaught so, and I can't think of a place as full of myths as the kitchen. I mean there's still a lot of very influencial chefs telling people on television that they have to sear the meat to keep all the juices inside.

                                And once they try old cow meat, because they're so convinced that it's gonna taste like shit they refuse to explore all the factors of it and they never give it a fair chance. They forget that that even though it's an old cow there's still thousands of other factors that could actually be the reasons for why it tastes bad.

                                It's like saying carrots taste like shit because the only time you had a carrot it was cooked bad, or stored bad or, grown bad etc..

                                I'm not saying all chefs have that attitude, but sadly a lot of them from my experience.

                                1. re: kjellander

                                  Earlier you said that you thought this cow was a meat breed. You should educate yourself on the differences between beef and dairy cows as they exist in Norway. If you are not sure that is.

                                  1. re: kengk

                                    No, get it right, I said I was SURE it was a meat breed (it still is) and I thought it was Hereford. But now I was responding to a post about old dairy cows as you can see if you read it all in context. I think old dairy cows can be delicious as well so I felt like defending them a bit, but we were not talking about the specific animal that I'm gonna buy...

                                    1. re: kjellander

                                      I see. I've never knowingly eaten a dairy breed cow. They might very well be delicious but there will be a much lower ratio of meat to bone and hide so you would need to factor that in when considering cost.

                                  2. re: kjellander

                                    Why don't you ask the farmer for the whole subprimal 180 strip loin and the 109 rib. Hang them for 28 days in your cooler and then cook up a thick center cut from each subprimal and see. Worst case scenario is you end up with about 30 lbs of burger.

                                    1. re: Tom34

                                      I could. I don't think they want to sell anything less than 1/2 animal at a time though, but I could try.

                                      1. re: kjellander

                                        Either way, do get back to us and let everyone know how it was.

                                        1. re: Tom34

                                          Yes I'm looking forward to how it goes. I'm a member on many homesteading U.S. sites and of course nothing goes to waste and when the cows aren't fertile the become dinner. I've heard quite good things about their taste, but I don't know what they are comparing it to. Regardless, if you don't care for the steaks and roasts I would imagine grinding them freshly into burgers would be more delicious and maybe even a bit gamier than anything you can find in a market.

                    3. Wow. Maybe I should shut up because I have never tried to cook an old cow. But there may be reasons for this. First, different breeds of cattle are used for dairy and meat. Second, the best beef cattle are steers (castrated males), not cows. Third, beef cattle are slaughtered at a young age, I think under two years. So I would not be optimistic about the taste of an animal that is the wrong breed, sex and age.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mwhitmore

                        I'm interested in all opinions, but of course especially those based on real experience.

                        I'm sure there's a reason but as I said I think it's more about the market and the money than the actual taste or quality of the meat.

                        - I don't think I even mentioned any breed? I'm not exactly sure what it was (I was told during our visit there) but I think it was Hereford and I'm sure it was a breed for meat production anyway.

                        - From what I know that's almost true. It's actually all female cattles (heifer and cows) AND steers that is said to give the best beef, if everything else is as it should be as well.

                        - The age was what my question was about, so that I don't really know. I know that young male cattles or calves is the absolute main stream beef sold on the market. But I don't think it has anything to do with the quality, at least not the quality I'm looking for. The market want as much meat in as short time as possible, and mostly without any marbled fat. Then young males is perfect and that's why it's main stream.

                        Don't you think so?

                      2. Have purchased one young steer and one old cow off the hoof. An unlicensed farmer with a professional abattoir and chilling as well as freezing room. Both were free range and finished for a month with grain. The cow had a much better flavor. Also tougher.

                        Find out what you will get when the butchers are finished. Such as the offal, hoofs, and head. Depending on condition, the hide is also valuable. Don't forget the bones for marrow as well as stock. I got a discount because I let the farmer keep them.

                        After wrapped and frozen, be sure each package is marked with waterproof ink. In great detail. And have a chart at the freezer door telling where the different cuts of beef are stored.

                        If they will allow it, watch the butchers through the entire process. A great introduction to what comes from where. Which is what started me in my hobby of butchering 100 Kg pigs for friends and fun. I do not charge for it.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          Interesting! Yeah but aging the "tender parts" will take care of the toughness I suppose? It just takes longer

                          I think I want all of it, even though I have a feeling it's a lot more meat than I can possibly imagine hehe :)...

                          The cow was a milk cow or a "meat" cow? I've heard retired milk cows can be pretty tasty as well...

                          How long did you hang them for? How old was the cow exactly?

                          1. re: kjellander

                            The meat cow had failed to drop a calf that year. Do not know how old it was. The farmer would buy any cheap cattle at auction, and had an Angus bull to service the cows. He had every size and color you can imagine.

                            The carcasses were hung in a chilling room for 30 days, then cut, wrapped, and frozen for almost a week in a minus 30 grad centigrade room. When I was transferred a year later, I gave away over 25 kilos of steaks and roasts.

                        2. Hi, kjellander:

                          *Why* are you considering such a mature animal?

                          While I think it would be safe and healthy to eat, I would not be excited about serving or eating the liver, kidneys, or sweetbreads. Too much has passed through those filters...

                          As for the meat itself, it should be OK, but I might think about a lot of stock, glace, or hamburger, rather than something more unitary.

                          I've raised a bunch of Herefords for meat. It's a good breed for meat.


                          14 Replies
                          1. re: kaleokahu

                            Hmm, I can't really understand why, as long as it's a healthy animal. I'm almost always more excited about older stuff, no matter if we're talking about wine, cheese, ham etc. I don't think I'll even find sweetbreads in anything else than calves?

                            I'm considering for many different reasons:
                            - I've never tried it or come across it, so it's something new for me and I'm always on the lookout for new stuff!
                            - I've heard from people that it can be pretty amazing.
                            - As I said, I like old stuff in many other cases
                            - I will hopefully learn a lot that I can't learn by reading


                            1. re: kjellander

                              Hi, kjell:

                              Look at it this way: If you needed a liver transplant, would you want a liver from an 18-y-o donor or a 98-y-o.?

                              What do you mean that you'll not find sweetbreads in any but calves?

                              Are you more excited at eating a huge 100-y-o lobster than a 3-pound?

                              Give it a try. For shits and giggles, also get a primal of a younger animal to treat the same way, and run some A-B comparison. Also, get the USDA guy to grade her.


                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                "Get the USDA guy to grade her"

                                The OP is in Norway.

                                  1. re: carolinadawg

                                    Why bother when odds are a 100:1 that it would be "Standard" or worse.

                                    1. re: Tom34

                                      I have no idea what that comment means, or why you directed it at me.

                                      1. re: carolinadawg

                                        "Get the USDA to grade her"......It would likely grade standard or less so why bother was my point.

                                        1. re: Tom34

                                          I never suggested that the OP do that...kaleokahu suggested it. I was simply pointing out to him/her that the OP is in Norway. Your post should have been in reply to kaleokahu, not me.

                                  2. re: kaleokahu

                                    Haha.. But that's just a whole other thing ain't it? As I said, it needs to be a perfectly healthy animal, no matter if we're talking about a young steer or an old cow.

                                    I simply mean that there are no sweetbreads in adult cattles because they slowly disappear when they stop suckle milk, don't they? That's what I was thaught, I might be wrong though...

                                    I've never eaten a lobster that big so I wouldn't have a clue...

                                    Yeah, that would be the perfect way to find out. And like always, I guess they're good for different things and need to be taken care of in different ways.

                                    1. re: kjellander

                                      Hi, Kjell:

                                      My dad had a slaughterhouse and packing plant. I saw many "perfectly healthy" old dairy cows' livers--full of flukes.

                                      The thymus, parotid and sublingual glands do not disappear.

                                      Lobster fits the pattern--older and tougher. As does venison and a bunch of other things.

                                      But I wish you luck. Please report back with your results.


                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        That just doesn't make sense, of course I wouldn't eat or serve a liver full of inch-big parasite worms and I would never pay for an infected piece of meat. I don't really get the point.

                                        Hmm, I believe you but I can't understand why all the information I can find tells me otherwise.

                                        Maybe. I just think it's actually more complicated than that.

                                        Thanks for your opinions though!

                                        1. re: kjellander

                                          Hi, Kjell:

                                          A point I was trying to make is that plenty of *seemingly* perfectly healthy old cows aren't. I suppose if you admitted her to an animal hospital for tests, you could get a better idea.

                                          I like that you are questioning conventional wisdom about beef from older animals. But now you need to venture into the empirical, and test your hypothesis. The acid test would be to have your restaurant specialize in beef from culled cows, and see if it becomes more popular or is given awards.


                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                            Interestingly enough, I had a liver replaced by the owner of one of the sausage pigs I purchased in Germany. The licensed butcher was also a meat inspector. Only legal way to butcher an animal in Germany, I would expect no less in Norway.

                              2. My family raised cattle and we never ate anything except old cull cows. They are good to eat.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: kengk

                                  I was raised on a Hereford farm. There is no problem eating an older cow (or steer). The main concerns are the health of the cow. If the animal's health is already compromised and that's why it is being slaughtered it can hurt the quality of the meat. I would increase the time you age the beef. Worst comes to worst.... after you try a few steaks you can always grind up a lot of hamburger.