Nestled beneath the Black Mountains in Whitney on Wye, Cabalva Farm has been in Corisande Albert’s family for three generations. Unusually, this 600 acre estate comprised of spring fed hill grassland, rich water-meadows, and woodlands, has been passed through the female line, with Corisande taking the helm in 2011.
Corisande has recently restored the estate’s ancient perry orchards, and dedicated Farm Manager, Geraint Powell, a Brecon Native, tends to a flock of around 400 Easycare sheep. But the jewel in the estate’s crown, and the reason for our visit, is their herd of pure bred Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Some herds which are partially fed on imported grain are marketed as ‘grass fed’, but Corisande and Geraint’s black beauties exclusively feast on pasture, straw and silage from the estate. Rather than being slaughtered at the industry average of 18 months, they graze on the estate for around 30. This gives the animals more time to develop and allows their natural hormones to express themselves.
A combination of these factors gives a rich and intense flavour to the meat – it is simply in another league to grain or soy fed beef. There are also health benefits: meat from entirely grass fed animals contains more healthy fats, like omega 3, and increased levels of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, than grain fed meat.
This is all part of a natural process. To defend against UV rays, premature ageing and disease, plants generate powerful antioxidants. When this pasture is digested by cows, these nutrients accumulate in their fat, and when we enjoy their beef we absorb them in turn.
We think you can feel these benefits when eating a Cabalva steak: their mineral heavy flavour and deeply satisfying fattiness leave you feeling immensely well nourished – it just feels natural.
Corisande and Geraint’s approach to farming also has huge environmental benefits. No artificial pesticides or fertilisers, which include harmful carbon emitting nitrates, are used across the farm. But, more importantly, feeding cows solely on their natural diet of grass can cause a net reduction in atmospheric carbon, offsetting and absorbing the methane they release.
This is all about soil and its capacity to absorb carbon. When grasses photosynthesise and absorb carbon dioxide, as well as using the carbon to grow, they utilise it in a symbiotic relationship with the soil: releasing liquid carbon from their roots to feed the plethora of microbes that exist in healthy soil in return for vital nutrients. These microbes convert this carbon, along with carbon from plant material trodden in by cattle, into a hugely stable carbon compound called humus in a process known as carbon sequestration.
Sequestered carbon can remain in the soil for hundreds of years, and acts as the building block for more soil, meaning as long as fields are not ploughed (Corisande’s haven’t been for over 20 years) soil can be continually produced and carbon continually absorbed.
In the unploughed American prairies, soil is over six feet deep. Geraint moves the herd around the estate and restricts them to a section of meadow each day, mimicking the movement of wild cattle across the prairies. Cows grazing enables greater amounts of carbon to be absorbed, as each time they take a mouthful of grass it stimulates the plant to release liquid carbon into the soil in exchange for the nutrients it needs to re-grow.
Therefore, as long as a meadow isn’t completely eaten by the cows – Geraint’s careful movement of the cattle ensures that this won’t be the case – grass will continue to grow and carbon will continue to be absorbed.
This process, supported by fossil evidence, explains how grasslands and the herbivores who fed on them co-evolved fifty-five million years ago – it is no wonder that eating Cabalva meat feels so natural and tastes so good. We’re very lucky to have this farm close to us and enjoy their meat on our menu.
Farm Transparency Project – https://www.farmtransparency.org/kb/48-age-animals-slaughtered
Smiling Tree Farm – https://www.smilingtreefarm.com/blog/carbon-mooooves