Local beef a meaty subject

At one time in Cayman, local beef was only in demand during Christmas time.

Today with heightened awareness on health issues, farmers say beef lovers are seeking out more local beef – which is grass fed and free from animal products – year round.

local beef

When its available, local beef can be purchased at supermarkets island-wide. Fosters Food Fair meat-cutter Edgar Elajas shows local beef for sale. Photo: Jewel Levy

But despite the apparent spike in interest in our local bovine products, some farmers say supermarkets are not doing enough to take on more local produce.

‘Supply and demand for local livestock is a very touchy subject right now in Cayman even though it is in very high demand,’ says Agricultural Society President James Sherieff.

‘Local farmers are trying to keep up with demand, but the importation of cheaper cuts of meats by supermarket operators is a major issue for local farmers.’

Foster’s Food Fair Meat Department Manager Jeffry Farnsworth said he could not speak for other supermarkets on the subject, but when it came to Foster’s supermarkets, they do not receive enough local beef to handle the demand.

‘There are occasions however when multiple farmers want to move their inventory at the same time and we can’t use that much beef all at once,’ he said.

What the supermarkets would like to see happen between the stores and farmers is a steady supply of quality local beef, Mr. Farnsworth said.

‘The farmers need to understand the need to develop a plan for availability, consistency and quality,’ he said. ‘This will improve the demand and profitability for all involved.’

He also said the supermarket sells far more meat by volume from the round and chuck cuts than from loin and rib cuts. The imported rounds and chucks are typically priced below what they pay for local beef, while the loins and ribs are higher.

Mr. Sherieff said cattle stock had also contributed to the problem in meeting the demand for local beef. He said several hurricanes had dwindled farmers’ cattle stock. However, he added that the government along with Department of Agriculture was replenishing farmers stock with over 100 head of livestock.

Slaughter conditions

Mr. Farnsworth said the greatest demand for local beef is around Christmas. When it came to slaughtering, they prefer to use animals slaughtered at the Government facility.

‘We will however take other animals if inspected by Department of Health and offerings are not available from the Agriculture Pavilion Lower Valley abattoir,’ he said.

‘The Agriculture Society [was told] if farmers slaughter the animals at the abattoir under sanitary conditions… that the stores such as Hurley’s, Kirk’s and Foster’s would utilise the meats from there. But that is not always the case.’

During Christmas most livestock farmers reverted back to slaughtering and selling local beef from constructed chop shops around the island despite the Agriculture Department issuing notices that the abattoir was open and functional.

Past president of the Agricultural Society Otto Watler said some farmers choose not to use the abattoir for financial reasons.

‘Some farmers said that retailing it to customers on spot makes more money that sending it to the supermarkets,’ he said.

In Lower Valley livestock owners who slaughter beef have an enclosed building and the beef is inspected by the Agriculture Department and stamped.

For those who do not have a chop shop, the cows, pigs and goats are picked up or transported to the Lower Valley Pavilion, slaughter, delivered to the supermarkets and the money given to the farmers

Cattle feed

Mr. Farnsworth said the beef imported were grain fed cattle, USDA Choice animals. Health-conscious meat-eaters prefer grass fed cattle, but that is no longer possible in Cayman, Mr. Sherieff said.

‘There is no way that local farmers can have 100 percent grass fed cows because there is not enough pasture land for animals to graze,’ he said. ‘This means that livestock food has to be supplement with bag feed during the dry season and grazing done during the wet season.

‘In the older days there was a better management of grass-fed cows than we have in the islands today,’ he said. ‘In those days farmers would get together to clear properties and fence off grass pieces so they would not have so many head of cattle grazing in one pasture.

‘The cattle would be grazed elsewhere when the grass had been depleted or during the dry seasons. What it simply boiled down to was proper pasture management in those days,’ he said.

These days, Mr. Sherieff said farmers supplemented grass feeding with bag feed, but that it was free of hormones and animal products.