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From Cattle to Steak: Know the Source

Living in Cairo for almost two years, I feel a sense of amazement to walk on grounds where the world’s most agricultural civilization ever has lived thousands of years ago. Agriculture was the foundation of the ancient Egyptian economy and was vital to the lives of the Egyptian people. To provide the civilization with food, the Egyptians were dependent on the gift of the Nile—the yearly flooding that left behind a black fertile soil, kemet, to grow crops and raise animals on. Animals, in particular cattle, were used to work the land—trample the seeds, pull the plough, and eat leftover grain—and to provide the Egyptians with food and drink. Agriculture was the success of the country; hence the majority of the population were farmers. In Ancient Egypt, the sons would follow in the footsteps of their father. If your father was a farmer, you would become a farmer. One man whose father was a farmer too, is Khaled Elkomy.

We meet Khaled at his farm called The Meat Farm, which is located in ‘Obour, around 35 kilometers north-east of Cairo. When we arrive at The Meat Farm, we hear the mooing of the cattle and smell the scent of fresh dung in the air. “Don’t worry, after a while you get used to this smell,” Khaled assures us as we enter his one-hectare meat farm. The farm exists out of six units, each unit containing a different weight category of cattle. As Khaled tells us he only keeps bulls, we notice that one category of cattle is separated from the rest. “These ones I bought not too long ago from another farm. Before I buy new cattle, I keep them on my farm for one week to check them out. In the past I experienced that new cattle would die shortly after I bought them, hence I first keep them with me for one week. If I’m happy with them, I buy them. I keep them separated from the rest for one month because of a treatment schedule they are on from the moment they arrive at the farm. We do this to make sure that the cattle are given any necessary vaccinations and/or vitamins before they are released with the rest,” he explains.

Unlike in the case of factory farming, Khaled waits until the calves reach the right weaning age before he buys them. “The mother’s milk is crucial for the calves,” Khaled says. “It’s filled with necessary vitamins.” It takes him seven to eight months to raise cattle from 100 kilos to 450 kilos. “This is a normal life cycle for the animal. If he grows faster than this, something is wrong,” Khaled points out.

Khaled’s farm holds around 300 cattle yearly. He started off with five cattle per six months, which would soon increase to 155-175 cattle per six months. He runs his farm together with two other workers who joined him from the beginning. “I used to work as an HR manager for an insurance company, and later for a real estate company. I didn’t feel satisfied about my job so I left. I was jobless for two months before I decided to start an organic meat farm,” Khaled tells us.

When we ask him what inspired him to start his own organic meat farm, he answers: “My father had a vegetable farm when I was a child. It was my mother’s dream to have a meat farm. When I left my job, one of my friends had started a meat farm and I was inspired by that. Hence I started this farm almost five years ago in 2016.”

He only raises cattle in his farm as he is not allowed to slaughter them—this can only be done in a slaughterhouse. When his cattle reach 450 kilos, he brings them to a slaughterhouse. To make sure that everything runs smoothly, a team member is present during the entire process. When the cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse, a governmental doctor checks their health. The cattle can be slaughtered after the doctor marks them as healthy. After slaughtering, the carcasses are brought to Khaled’s factory where they are cut into different cuts.

“I do sometimes get sad when I need to send my cattle to the slaughterhouse, but it’s what I do,” Khaled sighs. “It’s my business. I make sure I give them the best treatment and food. At the end of the day, people will eat my meat and I can’t afford bringing meat to the market that is of bad quality and can lead to sickness. That’s what’s happening in the meat industry today. If I tell you the exact details, you won’t be able to eat meat ever again. I only eat meat from my own farm because that’s the only meat I trust.”

Eager to know more about the reality of the meat industry today, we ask Khaled for further details, yet he decides to rather stay quiet about this and tells us that it is a very greedy business. Being a meat connoisseur, Khaled is very aware about what is going on in the meat industry, so his diet exists out of vegetables and meat only from his own farm.

He cares a lot about his cattle and does not hold back from spoiling them with the best food and treatments. During warm Egyptian summers, the HR-specialist-turned-farmer makes sure his cattle have access to plenty of shade and get enough sunlight to soak up some vitamin D.

“Cattle are easy to raise and they are very peaceful animals,” Khaled says. “They only eat and sleep. They wake up around 6 am for breakfast. At 1 pm we feed them lunch and at 8 pm we feed them supper. The food that we feed them consists of two categories: basic food, which is used to fill their stomach like hay, and supplements like corn, soya, cotton seed, and wheat. Cattle have to eat 2,5% of their weight daily. This results in 1,5 kilos of natural grown meat. Any result higher than this means that something has been added to their food, like hormones. Growing well-fed cattle is expensive. You need to be willing to pay the money. Apart from feeding them, I spray them monthly with a German product called Sebacil to get rid of harmful insects. I clean the farm weekly. It’s very important to have a clean farm, or else the cattle might get sick.”

In the past Khaled did experience having sick cattle on his farm before. Cattle show signs of illness when they either stop eating or isolate themselves in a corner. In this situation, he would take the cattle out, check their temperature, and apply appropriate treatment. If the bull is better after 15 minutes, he will go back and eat. If not, there is a bigger problem that will need further investigation.

After our interview we are eager to touch the cattle. I notice that they would not come running to me as quickly as they did with Khaled.

“They don’t come easily to people they don’t know. It takes time,”, Khaled explains, “They must smell you first, because you are a stranger to them. Once they smell and lick you, you can pet them.”

With patience, I am finally able to pet one of them softly on the front of his head. “They like to play and bump heads. They are very friendly, but only behind bars. You have to be cautious because they can be very aggressive.” I witnessed only their friendliness on the farm, but I could easily imagine their aggression after noticing that one of the metal bars of the enclosure had been bent.

The bent metal bar of the enclosure

Before we leave the farm, we ask Khaled what the most satisfying part of his job is. Without a second of doubt he replies: “That I am doing halal work. I am providing good and halal meat to my customers. Nothing I am doing is bad. I can go to sleep every night with a conscious mind.”

Unlike factory farming, where cattle do not spend time outdoors, are given hormones to grow faster, are slaughtered in horrible ways, and are taken away from their mother shortly after birth, this man does things differently. As consumers we can do things differently, too. We can visit our local farms to educate ourselves about how they grow their vegetables and raise their animals to know exactly where we purchase our food from. This awareness in our consumer choices is a small and simple change that we can implement to be healthier, and decrease animal abuse in mass meat production.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tayyib Society team.

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Adela is a founding member of Tayyib Society.

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