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Sheep and beef farmers Clayton and Lyn Chittock have recently returned from a two-week trip to Japan where they saw the ultimate destination of their beef, once it left New Zealand.
The couple have a 365ha property - Greenbank Farm - at Waikoikoi.
They supply the Canterbury Meat Packers, (CMP), Ashburton, (now Anzco), with beef raised according to specific requirements from the company's client Aleph Inc.
Aleph Inc is a large family-owned Japanese company, with more than 300 restaurants and other outlets in Japan.
Being part of the Aleph programme means the Chittocks are required to raise beef cattle according to particular criteria, including rearing cattle that have no dairy blood in them, are 50% Hereford or Angus, can only be grass and silage-fed (no grain feed), can use only specified agrichemicals on the stock and pasture and not use antibiotics or growth hormones.
The cattle are sent away to the processors before they are 27 months and at between 300kg and 370kg carcass weight, depending on the season.
''This year they seemed to average 300kg because of the conditions,'' Mr Chittock said.
''It is a bit of a balancing act because if we hang on to them [to gain more weight] they cost more to feed.''
Mr Chittock said they took care not to stress the cattle as it would raise the pH level.
''Once it gets over 5.8 they (CMP) won't take it and the meat does not keep as long.''
The care they took to meet the client's requirements ensured a tender product and they won the CMP Southland ''Producer of the Year'' title in 2011.
Mrs Chittock said the meat was ''amazingly'' tender.
''It is beautiful meat.''
Mr Chittock said they bought the Aleph cattle in the autumn as weaners and after drenching upon arrival they are put out on to the paddocks with the best grass.
''The cattle go on to lush grass, then the lambs out after that and the ewes go after the lambs,'' Mrs Chittock said.
During the winter the cattle are put on a wintering pad and fed on-farm-made silage, lucerne hay and baleage. They make about 700 tonnes of silage and 200 bales of baleage on farm.
They built their two-pen wintering pad using old stock crates, which they acquired for the price of the labour and three bottles of gin.
Mr Chittock's father Maurice started with the Aleph programme in the late 1990s, attracted by the premium for prices for the meat.
The family has also been supplying lamb to Waitrose, in Britain, for about 14 years.
About 3500 lambs are sent to the processors every year, and they keep about 800. The Waitrose lamb also has to be antibiotic-free to earn the premium.
In addition to the standard flock, Mrs Chittock takes in all the orphans, cold lambs, ones that have received antibiotics and bottom triplets to raise them herself.
- yvonne.ohara @alliedpress.co.nz