When eating, eat

Pause and when eating, eat. Learn basic rituals and how to eat well in any given moment
Words by Samuel Moppett
Photography by Liz Seabrook 
Illustration by Ryan Todd

Ginger Pig:
On a large scale, we learn about gestation and the relationship between farmer and animal

   I sat down with the Ginger Pig himself ― unpretentious, wise, and a true gentleman. 

   It’s time to look into beef farming on a larger scale. I wanted to meet Tim Wilson and learn more about just how long it takes to rear heritage Longhorns and understand the process of producing high-end beef ― proper beef, as far away from commercial farming as you can imagine.

   It starts with a bull and a cow Tim explained, “The gestation period is nine months … if you chuck a bull in with a cow or with cows you will have births al
l over the place. The best time to have a calf born is April. Pasture is good, and good beef is all down to good grass. I’ve heard that English beef is the best in the world, and that is because we have the right climate ― it rains. (In fact, it’s raining as I’m writing this.) Once spring comes, it gets warm, and the grass grows. If you’re in the West Country, it will grow in March (the ground needs to be around 14 degrees Centigrade for grass to grow).” Up north at the Ginger Pig, about 900 feet above sea level, the grass starts growing in April.  

Tim Wilson, Founder of Ginger Pig

   You put your bull in with a cow in June for six weeks. “You have quite a closed calving time,” said Tim. “You don’t want to calf forever as you need to be there for all the births. And then you leave him to do his job. One bull would work with (depending on the age of the bull) around twenty-five cows.” 

   Tim continued, “You don’t want to tire the bull out too much. At the end of the six weeks, the bull does come out looking decisively worse for wear, poor bugger.” 

   I asked if that’s because it doesn’t know when to stop. Tim said, “The only animals that shag for pleasure is monkeys and humans.” In the rest of the farming world, the male-only works when the female is in heat. “It’s fascinating how a bull goes round and sniffs the appropriate parts, and it pulls its teeth back, and grins.” Tim laughs. The bull knows when the time is right. 

Cows have characteristics, like this Longhorn

   Problems start if the bull doesn’t take. If we lived in an ideal world, it would come back on heat after about four weeks, but you might get a return ― farming jargon for when the cow hasn’t taken to the bull. So you then have to leave the bull in for the next cycle as well. If it goes past two heats, calves will be born sporadically, and that’s no good for management. 

   The bulls are home-grown. “The big thing for beef is conformation. You want weight in the right places,” Tim explained, “which is in the loin. A good calf wants to be like a little house brick, with four short legs. No daylight to be seen under its bell and a pretty flat back. The value to a butcher of a carcass is in the sirloin. Getting the right piece of beef is tricky. Rarely can you go out and purchase the ideal bull and the ideal cow and breed your lines how you want. Ultimately, it depends on how they react to each other. 

   I asked Tim what he looks in a bull. “You don’t want a bull and a cow with the same characteristics,” Tim said. “Say for instance a cow is nice and long, maybe a bit thin, plenty of ribs there, a lot of length in the sirloin and maybe a bit leggy. If you pair that with a similar bull, you’ll get a scrawny calf. So you’d look for a bull that’s a bit wider, more stocky. It’s all about finding the right combination.”

Longhorns roam the luscious spring grassland