The Horse-or-Cow Question

In China they eat dogs. In Europe we eat cows. And sometimes also horses. 

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I could never eat horses and I had to think of this old debate when I passed the equestrian shop Zorn. The shop first caught my attention because Zorn means anger in German. Then I was intrigued by all the nerdy horseback riding equipment in the shop window that reminded me of my childhood. Finally, I saw on a sign that they also sold beef from Limousin cattle, so I went inside. I found myself among colourful horse halters with rhinestones, massage brushes and stylish riding boots while I was waiting for Mrs. Zorn to sell me some meat. She took me to a back room where she had her cows stored in bits and pieces inside two big freezers. Photos of those very cows decorated the wall. I was deeply confused. The difference between what horses and what cows mean to us had never been so obvious to as in that room. But there was also the elephant in the room most of us carnivores know so well: would we also eat the meat of animals we knew personally?

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The meat was delicious by the way. I bought a huge ribeye that I put on the grill. It was extraordinary. The Zorn family piqued my curiosity. I found out that they are very successful breeders of French Limousin cattle. And apparently they are also passionate horsekeepers. I wanted to know more and decided to go and visit the farm, located in Heiligensee, a quiet neighbourhood in West Berlin. I was also hoping to go bit deeper into the horse-or-cow question.

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When I met Heike Zorn on her farm I asked her right away: “Would you also eat horses?” And she said: “No, no, no, I would never do that!” The answer was simple. “We were brought up that way. We knew from the beginning what the cows were for and what the horses were for. Also, I have a lot more one-to-one interaction with the horses. I brush them every time before I ride them. With a cow it’s more of a group thing. They are always in a flock.” That seemed to answer my question.

But I learned a lot more from Mrs. Zorn. I learned, for example, that the meat of Limousin cows is short-fibred which is why it’s so tender. The initial reason, however, why her father exchanged his English Galloway flock for a French Limousin flock back in the day was PR. Mad cow disease had just come over from England and Mr. Zorn was scared to lose people’s trust and go broke. I also learned that the meat of the female animals tastes better than that of the male animals, but: the male animals “ripen” quicker, and that’s why they pay off faster. The males are slaughtered with one year and the females with two years. Some of the animals are kept for breeding purposes. The bull is kept with the cows on the meadow, but it has to be exchanged for another bull every three years to prevent him from mounting his daughters. This year, a calf was born that was lactose intolerant! It has to be fed with lactose-free milk powder. All the other animals are fed by the farm’s internal food cycle, by self-grown hay and grain. The Zorns’s farm is already in its fifth generation. And it is doing extremely well. In the last breeding competitions they won all the categories. It’s true. To a layman the animals look very beautiful and incredibly healthy. Still, sadly the Zorns have to rent their land from the state on a yearly limited contract. They don’t have running water or electricity. They get what they need from a pond and from an aggregator. But they cannot plan or invest for the long term because they always have to be ready to leave. The land is building land. Nevertheless, Mrs. Zorn trusts her neighbors. They saved the farm once already in the ’70s. And they would for sure start another citizen’s initiative if they had to.

In the end, Mrs. Zorn told me that she is always very sad when the moment has come, when they have to “sort out” an old cow. She and her sister mostly find a way to “accidentally” let the bull close to the old ladies so that they can get pregnant one more time: “After knowing them for 15 years it is hard to let them go.”

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There is indeed a lot of love at the Zorn farm – for the horses and for the cows. And all the family members especially put their love into producing the best beef they can. I can wholeheartedly recommend you taste it for yourself.

You can buy the meat at the equestrian shop in Heiligensee mentioned above at the following address: Lesewitzer Steig 21, 13503 Berlin

On their website you can order fresh meat on several “meat dates” (Fleischtermine) throughout the year. The rest of the year you can get the meat deep frozen. The next meat date is on September 4, 2018.

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Flashback: A few years back I spent a summer on a farm in Switzerland. I took care of the cows, cleaned the stable, fed them and witnessed how they enjoyed the first green grasses when we let them out on the meadow for the first time after winter. One day I was herding a group of cows that also included some young calves. I was walking behind them. We were close to a little creek, butterflies in the air, the tinkling of cow bells. And I couldn’t think of anything other than how delicious those young thighs in front of me would taste roasted.

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