In Melbourne, a city full of food and obsessed by coffee, I cook, I eat, I share the good news and the bad. essjay eats

Otway Harvest Rose Veal


Otway Harvest farm near Apollo Bay boasts lush pasture, a variety of animal residents and views that are without peer; straight over the ocean to Antarctica.

Here, farmer and chef, Steve Earl grows fruit & vegetables and raises animals as naturally and as humanely as possible, while working to restore balance and diversity in the soil.

Steve’s work and philosophy has led him to undertake a new project to improve the prospects and welfare of young male calves that are surplus to the dairy industry, growing rose veal.

Rose veal is meat from an older calf, popularised in the UK over the last few years. It’s a pale pink colour rather than the very pale veal or white veal you may be used to. Keeping calves confined to darkened crates to ensure they do not eat grass or experience sunshine creates pale veal. Such practices are not allowed in Australia any more, however veal has remained an unpopular choice on Australian plates.

We think it’s time to rethink this.

Cows in Australia calve every year to ensure a consistent milk supply. This leaves a number of calves surplus to the dairy farmer. The dairy farmers do not require the males and even the females if the herd requires no replacement milkers.

The average number of cows in a herd in Australia is 240. In 2011/12 there were 6770 dairy farms in Australia. That’s a lot of bobby calves. Some 400,00 male calves are born every year in Australia.

This “by-product” is generally separated from its dam within 12 hours of birth and often transported at 5 days old to an abattoir. And then, shamefully, the meat isn’t valued. A lot ends up as fertilizer and pet food. In some cases the calves don’t even make it that far, with shooting of male calves at birth becoming more common these days.

Thinking that there has to be a better way, Steve undertook to test the waters, raising a small group of bobby calves for 5 -6 months on his farm. The small social group shares a lush, steep paddock with Tom Dooley the llama and an orphaned Welsh Black heifer. 

Steve with Calves

The calves come from a local dairy farm and stayed, feeding naturally, with their dams for a fortnight after birth. During this time they received the all–‐important “first milk” known as colostrum, full of antibodies to help protect the calves from disease.

They were moved to Steve’s property where they continued to be fed milk, along with oaten hay and lucerne and had access to (of course) fresh grass. They are free to roam, graze and be calves (would Joel Salatin call it the “cowness of the calf”?) They were not been castrated.

At almost 6 months old they had their “one bad day”. This first, extremely limited, production of Otway Harvest rose veal will be made available only to a very few selected chefs in Victoria with a very limited stock of retail cuts for sale.

Steve has plans to work with dairy farmers to inseminate with breeds more recognised for meat production. However we shouldn’t feel the need to back away from eating dairy cows. Magnuss Nilsson of Fäviken reckons retired dairy cows are some of the more flavourful meat around.

These calves now have a value, and if Australia can follow the example being set by the UK, this tender, delicate and flavourful meat can make a return to the dinner table of ethical omnivores.

 Useful Links


British Veal Poised for an ethical comeback.