Purebred Alentejan cattle
Our agricultural exploitation, currently owner of 1200 purebred Alentejan cows, is a charter member of Carnalentejana». This is a company responsible for marketing their shareholders’ alentejan cattle. The operations started in 1992 to oppose the malpractice of the meat intermediaries that discredited its quality and the serious farmers values and codes of conduct. Carnalentejana is now composed by 140 associates, each with its own integrated agricultural exploitation but collaborating in the livestock and cereal production (since one activity complements the other). Presently, Carnalentejana has its own production process certified by an independent company, Certis», and its business management system certified by Lloyd´s Register Quality Assurance».
The livestock management is done in extensive breeding, which means the animals are rarely stabled, that they eat what the land produces and some planted forage to be grazed directly. You can easily find Carnalentejana in big shopping centers and supermarkets of national distribution bearing this symbol –
To be a part of this group of breeders, you have to own pure-bred alentejan cows registered in the breed registry. The latter is managed by an independent Association of Carnalentejana, called Associação de Criadores de Bovinos da Raça Alentejana», that provides support to the breeders in maintaining the breed quality standards while the animals are developing.
What is fed to the animals?
The management system for alentejan livestock is common to all exploitations of the same association and it is characterized by the use of natural pastures in Spring. That is the perfect season for parturitions due to the pastures’ nutritional index. At the beginning of Summer, we use what is left from the cereal stubble, a common practice essential to feed the cattle as soon as the pastures begin to disappear.
At the end of Autumn, the Cork Oak and Holm Oak forests begin to bear fruits, providing a food stock with its acorns and cork tree fruits. In Winter, depending on the rain and cold, it is possible to have hay bale from the cereal production and make use of forage – namely oats – that were planted over the Autumn and will be used by cows in January/February.
The breeding season
Traditionally, the breeding season begins with the introduction of bulls into the herd of cows in September and October, so that the females can bear their calves at the end of Spring. Normally, it happens from May or June onwards so that they are born in their best physical condition because this is the time when animals have more available food. Plus, it is common and traditional to make use of stubble during Summer because it enables an even more nutritional feeding, allowing the calves to be heavier at the time of weaning. This results in having cows with better conditions so that we can explore their full dairy potential.
The herds of Carnalentejana are divided in three different groups: the Cows for Reproduction, the Stud Bulls and the Calves. The latter group is also sub-divided in Calves for Slaughter, Female Calves to ensure the reproduction, Female Calves for Sale and Calves for breeding (stud).
All cows belonging to Carnalentejana must have their father and mother registered at the breed registry, so they can also be included.
The cows spend their lives in extensive breeding, meaning they live in plains and follow a diet of natural pasture, stubble, acorns, branches of cork-oak and holm oak, planted pastures and oats. Their life cycle is of approximately 13/14 years, which corresponds to 11/12 years of continued reproduction, either mating or by insemination. The normal gestation period for a cow is 9 months.
At the end of their reproductive cycle, the older cows are replaced by their pure-bred offspring’s and Carnalentejana uses their meat for ground beef, such as: Hamburgers, Meatballs, Minced meat and Sausages; only the loins and the beef are deep-frozen to be commercialized in restaurants.
All the Bulls from Carnalentejana must have their father and mother registered at the breed registry, so they can also be included.
The bulls must be bought in auctions, held by the group’s associates to preserve the breed and avoid inbreeding inside the herds. These animals are the kings of their territory and have a harem of almost 40/50 cows. Their life cycle is of approximately 14/15 years, which corresponds to 12/13 years of continued reproductive capacity, either mating or by insemination.
At the end of their lives, their meat is used for ground beef in Carnalentejana, like: Hamburgers, Meatballs, Minced meat and Sausages; only the loins and the beef are deep-frozen to be commercialized in restaurants.
Male and Female Calves
The Calves are the result of a natural reproduction between Cows and Bulls and all of them must be registered at the breed registry. Like humans, these animals take nine months to develop and be born, spending the next six months with their mothers in the herds. Normally, the average birth statistics is 50% male and 50% female.
After the sixth month nursing period, the offspring’s are weaned and taken from the herds. That is when other subgroups are created:
Calves for Slaughter/Calves for breeding (Stud)
After one month separated from their mothers, the calves are divided by gender and taken to the fields, raised in extensive breeding with the same diet as any other animal. A couple of months after, the Calves are placed inside the fence and are under the observation of the Association of Alentejan Breed Cattle technicians that select the calves for reproduction and the ones which are not best of breed.
The ones selected for reproduction are bred apart and then transferred to another herd or sold in auction to other associate breeders of Carnalentejana.
The Calves for Slaughter live till they are 18/20 months old, also in extensive breeding and eating the same food as any other animal. However, in their last months of life they are fed with an elaborate cereal feed made exclusively for Carnalentejana by two hired feed factories that provide this exclusive food.
This feed is appropriate to clean the meat, which it is dark red like blood due to the extensive breeding. Hence, the feed makes the meat cleaner and makes it acquire a bright red shade. This process is registered at the methodology book of Carnalentejana to achieve a standardization in the meat, considering the animals are not from only one agricultural exploitation but come from 130 estates with similar climatic conditions, pastures and land.
Female Calves for Sale/Female Calves to ensure reproduction
After a couple of months grazing in the fields, the female calves are placed inside the fence and are under close observation of the technicians of the Association of Alentejan Breed Cattle. They select the 100% pure female calves from the ones that have some genetic malformation like a white spot on the belly or a lighter color, which are traceable features visible to the naked eye.
The calves considered pure are kept in the estate to replace the older cows but, should there be many, they can also be sold in auction to other breeders. The calves that have some signal of impurity are sold in auctions.