When I first came to Boschendal I thought that I would be doing the same thing that I have always done: farm beef. I have had a passion for cattle since I was old enough to open a gate, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to wake up every day to do something that I love.
I came here as a beef farmer. I have always been a beef farmer. I have picked bulls, mated cows, bred calves, weaned them, sold the oxen and then bred the heifers again. In my first few weeks of working at Boschendal, I came to a sudden realization that I am not a just beef farmer. While I may have a herd of five hundred Black Angus cattle that are arguably one of the top genetic herds in the country and I do the day to day chores of any beef farmer, I am not, first and foremost, a beef farmer. I FARM GRASS!
Grass is energy. Energy is weight and weight is money.
Taking care of your grass is the most important aspect of cattle farming. The beef is a product that comes off the grass.
There is a question, which Rob asked me over the phone once, that I continuously ask myself while I am out on the farm: “Is it natural?”
If you do a little research on animals that move in herds, you will see that the way the majority of farmers raise these animals is very far from natural. All ruminants have three things in common, according to Joel Salatin: “They mob, they move and they mow.” These three activities ensure that our pastures are eaten evenly with no selective grazing taking place. The animals are constantly moving over the grass, urinating and spreading the muck evenly over the pasture, which ensures natural fertilisation. The movement of the mob causes seeds to be spread and trampled into the grass, while simultaneously flattening the grass to ensure that the seeds are then protected and able to germinate in the moist environment. Most importantly, these animals are mowing the grass. They are eating grass, as nature intended, rather than grain or wheat or some chemical mix loaded with growth hormones and antibiotics that scientists have developed in a lab. Animals naturally MOVE in a MOB for safety, and they naturally MOW grass.
We have planted seven summer grasses into our pastures on Boschendal this year to emulate the natural grasslands that the cows would normally be grazing on. We also have winter grasses and legumes that grow slowly in summer and pick up in winter, thus allowing us to have fresh grass and legumes all year around. These diverse grass species are not only self seeding (the oxen themselves are an efficient seed distribution mechanism) but the range of nutrients and minerals that they provide for the cattle make additional supplementation unnecessary. The diversity that we encourage in our pastures will ensure that the animals get natural antibiotics, giving us a healthier animal and a healthier meat product, as fewer animals will fall prey to disease and require synthetic antibiotic injections.
The natural diet that our animals eat makes our meat not only delicious but also nutritionally beneficial to the consumer. The long-term effects of hormones and antibiotics that are fed to livestock and subsequently consumed by humans are only now beginning to be investigated, and the results are far from encouraging. Raising our livestock the natural way allows us to produce meat that is lower in saturated fat, higher in vitamin E, and has a balance of omegas 3 and 6. This is good news for the consumer’s health.
Boschendal is one of a growing number of farms, such as Farmer Angus at Spier, which are leading by example in a world that is becoming more centred on going green and treating animals humanely. We are raising our cattle the way that nature intended by allowing them to move around in a natural habitat while simultaneously eating what their bodies are made to process. The movement of the cattle encourages natural growth and fertilisation of our pastures, thus eliminating the need to use synthetic fertilisers. Our cattle are naturally healthier than those that are fed synthetic materials, and therefore produce a healthier meat product. We care about our animals and we care about what our guests are eating. We are raising good, hearty, natural beef and we control the whole process from farm to plate, thus allowing us to guarantee that our product is of top quality.