Dartmoor Ponies - a sustainable meat source
At this years Source Tradeshow, a display that caught me eye was Dartmoor Conservation Pony Meat, and on offer was pony sausages to try. Many people will stop reading this blog at this point but I urge you to read on.
In 2013, we were rocked by headlines that some high steet food brands were unknowingly selling products containing horse and pony meat. In some products there was as much as 100%. It all came to light when DNA from frozen burgers were found to contain not only pony and horse meat in beef products but also pork, which for people with certain beliefs this was a major problem. Although no danger to health, it was believed that horses used for sport could have entered the food chain which can contain the drug Phenylbutazone which is banned in the use of food production. Since then the standards have been completely overhalled but it will take a long time and trust to persuade people to try pony meat.
Every year thousands of male goats are slaughtered as only the females are useful for the high demand in milk and cheese production. Old cows are killed due to them being useless (In fact the meat from older cows is very tasty). These are just a small amount of animals that are killed because we are not aware that they are a sustainable food source, this is the same for the Dartmoor ponies.
Are we against pony meat because of what happened in the scandal? Is it because we were not aware we were eating it? Or is it because when we think of ponies, we think of Black Beauty and how beautiful they are. Are spring lambs not beautiful bouncing around the field yet we all love a lamb shank?
The Dartmoor Conservation Trust is just that; it's there to not only look after the moors but also to look after the animals that live there and by having pony on the menu they are helping the moor retain its natural balance.
A few facts:
300 dartmoor ponies will be rehomed to become riding companions
50 ponies will go back to their herds to become conservation ponies
The rest, in excess of 400, are shot in their first year of life due to no future prospects
If you have children or animals, you will know how expensive they are to keep and this the same for the Dartmoor farmers(I'm not suggeting the culling of your children or pets!) - they can't afford to keep the ponies and this is why they are shot but in doing this the moor will suffer, gorse will grow in abundance and large areas of the moors will be inhospitable and over time this will affect the amount of tourists coming to visit the amazing moors we have.
So what is the answer? There are many possible solutions but as this is a food blog I am going to focus on the food side of things.
The Food Solution:
For a pony to start being used for riding or driving, they should be no younger than 3 years old. If at 3 years, he doesn't have enough buyers from stables - if we are eating it, it can be sold for meat. If we are not eating it, and due to previous sales figures for prediction, knows the number of ponies that will sell, the rest will unfortunately be shot at 1 year as the farmer cannot afford to raise the animals with no future buyer assured. If he can increase pony as a food product, it's a win-win situation as the farmer makes a profit on all the animals, the moor retains its natural beauty and the pony has up to 3 good years of life, free range - conditions that many, many animals will never get to enjoy.
So how good is pony meat for you? Well, living on Dartmoor, the meat is chemical free, it's also low on fat and full of protein so it's a good choice for anyone health concious.
It has a great taste, slightly sweet but doesn't have a strong flavour so it's ideal for people who find game meat too strong.
I would urge you to put aside what happened in 2013 and give pony meat a try. It's good for you, it has led a good, chemical free life and by eating it you are helping to keep Dartmoor in good condition and bringing in tourists visiting this beautiful part of Devon for generations to come.