OLD QUEENIAN Jason Carroll and his wife, GHS Old Girl and former Queen’s College teacher Michele Dell, live and work at the wine estate Boschendal, where Jason manages the herd of Black Angus cattle. He tells his story thus:
When I first came to Boschendal I thought I would be doing the same thing I had always done – farming 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. I have farmed beef, a lot of it.
In my first few weeks of working at Boschendal, I came to the sudden realisation that I am not a beef farmer. While I may have a herd of 500 Black Angus cattle that are arguably one of the top genetic herds in the country I am not 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 one question 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 around in herds you will see that the way the majority of farmers farm their 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 pastures are eaten evenly with no selective grazing taking place.
The animals are constantly moving over the grass, urinating and spreading 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 protected and able to germinate in the moist environment.
Most importantly, these animals are mowing the grass. They eat 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 in our pastures on Boschendal this year to emulate the natural grasslands that the cattle would normally graze on.
We also have winter grasses and legumes that will slow down in growth in summer and pick up in winter, thus allowing us to have grass and legumes all year around, and will eventually lead to us not having to plant as our pastures will have such diverse grass species that they will become self-sufficient and supply various amounts of nutrients and minerals to the livestock that they would not get from eating a diet of grain.
The way we plant pastures will ensure the animals get enough natural antibiotics, thereby giving us healthier animals and healthier meat. By putting more diversity into the pastures, the cows can naturally get the variety of minerals and salts they need, and the need to feed the unnatural commercial products is eliminated.
The natural diet our animals eat makes our meat nutritionally beneficial to the consumer. The long-term effects hormones and antibiotics fed to livestock have on the humans that consume them are only now beginning to be investigated and the consensus so far is that the effects of consuming such meat are detrimental to one’s health. Raising livestock the natural way allows us to produce meat that is lower in saturated fat, higher in vitamin E, and meat that has a balance of omega 3 and 6, all of which are hugely beneficial to the consumer’s health.
Boschendal is 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 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 pastures, thus eliminating the need to use synthetic fertilisers.
Our cattle are naturally healthier than those fed on synthetic materials and therefore produce a healthier meat product. We care about our animals and about what our clientele are eating. We are raising good, hearty, natural beef that does not ever leave the farm. Our livestock are raised by us, slaughtered by us, processed by us and sold by us.
We control the whole process from farm to plate, thus allowing us to guarantee that our product is of top quality.