So What Harvey’s Grass Fed Beef All About and Why Is this So Exciting?
Keith Harvey’s Grass Fed Beef was the first wholly grass-fed protocol and trademark, written by Keith Harvey, to be drawn up in South Africa, registered with SAMIC in 2012. The protocol has since been adopted by a Vryburg co-op for Kalahari beef.
Keith Harvey, the original Kalahari Beef farmer, farms in the Vryburg region in the Northwest province under strict protocols that do not allow any grain, supplementation or chemical interference and only permit that cows are grazed 100% on the veldt. This farming method called holistic management is an Allan Savory farming practice that rehabilitates indigenous veldt, shrub and ecology.
The protocol was registered with SAMIC (South African Meat Industry Company) and the Dept of Agriculture in 2012; a quality assurance company which was created by the Red Meat Industry of South Africa to ensure the quality and safety of meat in South Africa, see – www.samic.co.za.
Today, Keith Harvey supports the Jozi Real Food Revolution through making his very special wholly veldt reared beef from this very special region available through The Organic Natural and Whole Food Emporium store in Johannesburg
We have full traceability on each carcass too so that we are always assured that we’re getting an animal from this region farmed according to these principles and can quickly address any quality issues. When the animal carcass leaves the Vryburg abattoir, it is branded with the stamp so that when it is received at the deboning plant (the guys who cut and package) they check the stamp and issue the carcass with a batch code that allows us to keep track of it so that we know we’ve got the right carcass. It also means that if there are any quality issues, we can quickly trace it back.
Keith Harvey, A Farmer With Vision, Mission and Purpose…
So some time ago, I was introduced by a great man to Keith Harvey.
On Keith’s farm cattle have on-going access to pasture from the rich and fertile veldt. Cattle are wholly veldt reared .There are no feedlots, so grain bales, no barns and minimal human interference. Where man and cow do meet the interaction contains an element of respect that is humbling to witness.
Cattle, grass, veldt and soil exist here in a relationship that is as nature intended; all life dependent on the health of the other; nature soulfully intertwined into a balance so delicate, it is entirely sacred.
Keith Harvey, the farmer behind this incredible oasis is a holistic farmer who dedicates his life to teaching others about the miracle of nature and proves that farming without chemicals, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, mega human interference and grain, is feasible, rewarding and achievable.
His farm has been ‘chemical-free’ for 20 years now. There are no pesticides or artificial fertilizers in this area and no tarred roads in either, so no settlement or industry which also keeps the water pure and untainted.
Jan Smuts – A Modern Day Hero?
Did you know that our own Jan Smuts was a proponent of organic agriculture? He in fact wrote a book about it! The farming method that Keith Harvey practices ‘holism’ has its origins with Jan Smuts.
In the same decade that Lord Northbourne, wrote ‘Look To The Land’, one of the earliest texts on ‘organic’ philosophy -(he was the man who first coined the term) in Africa our Jan Smuts wrote a similar book, Holism and Evolution introducing the principles of holism which are the same as organic philosophy. ‘Look To The Land’ was one of my best introductions to the philosophy of organic farming in my education and to have it come at me again through Keith introducing me to Jan Smut’s philosophy, has been very, very special.
Holism is the idea that natural systems should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts. This often includes the view that systems somehow function as wholes and that their functioning cannot be fully understood solely in terms of their component parts.
When applied to agriculture, holism is the practice of understanding the delicate balance and interplay of all components of nature’s cycles and that the work of a successful farmer is to behave as a steward. Not to dominate them or to interfere with them, but to humbly steward nature as a supportive custodian.
The relationship between man and animal in this context and in nature’s context is meant to be respectful and meant to be equal. All aspects of life, man, human, soil, air, water all equal to each other with a part to play in the preservation and evolution of each species. When you truly understand that your own body is meant to decay in soil to provide nutrients that support the next cycle of growth which feeds plants and then animals, you really get how man isn’t designed or supposed to stand outside of the cycle as if larger or more important than, but rather as an integral part of a grand and glorious process and intelligence.
A Holy Cow Indeed…
Spending time with Keith was an altogether religious experience. What I mean by that, is that if religion is defined as a system of belief that asserts (no matter the difference in the type of belief) that there is a larger intelligence behind the design and process of life, the knowledge that the study and practice of holism and organic agriculture in its truest sense gives, is that there is indeed the grandest intelligence in nature.
Nothing exists by chance alone.
Holism holds up a microscope to the intricate display of purpose and order and connection that exists between every aspect of life and there is no other conclusion to draw for me than the fact that it is the clearest evidence of the most incredible undefinable wisdom that underpins our existence!
To understand the cycles of nature, is to truly understand that everything individual has a purpose and that the purpose is to enhance collective life.
I have had my fair share of exposure to different religions and spiritual philosophy and I can tell you categorically that no amount of theory preached at me prior was as effective as spending time with Keith talking about the principles of holism. I don’t feel a need to define what that divine intelligence is called or looks like, that’s just not part of what I want to do. Simply, I now understand that nature is a type of church and that in her quiet and relentless sense, there is meaning and evidence of the most compassionate divine intelligence. The meaning and sense I get is that we are all connected, all of life is connected, you cannot harm one without harming all and that everything has purpose and a place. I literally spent 5 hours writing notes while I listened to Keith explain the intricacies and delicacies of the Kalahari veldt and how they support it in order to provide cattle with the most fertile grass, veldt and shrubs. I can’t hope to impart all of that knowledge in one article, I’m going to need to write a series of them to do this justice! In fact somebody needs to help this man write a book. It’s got to be written and this knowledge dispersed.
In The Rat Race We Connect To Chaos…In Nature We Connect To Sense…
It makes you feel differently about life. It’s difficult truly in this modern day rat race of ours to be reminded while we’re surrounded by concrete, mechanics and tasks that there is sense and intelligence behind nature. We are reminded when we visit the bush or get out in the country or when we face the joy of a birth or the pain of loss in death. We feel so humbled in those times because we are reminded of life’s fragility and intelligence and process, that there is a process to it all, a cyclical and rhythmic on-going of life and death. Each death is meant to feed and fuel the next cycle of growth.
Letting Cows Respectfully Be..…
An outstanding feature for me about Keith Harvey’s farm is the respect given to the cattle. Never, and I mean never, have I seen cattle so relaxed and so deeply centred in their natural ‘cow-ness !
The greatest characteristic of a cow’s core nature is that they are sociable, curious and gentle. They don’t bellow or make large and expansive gestures, they don’t have really large postures, they are slow, and observant and gentle. Typically, the cows I’ve come across prior in life are skittish of humans. Traditional ways of herding cows alone, have always given him the ‘grills’ (if you’re South African you know where to place guttural emphasis on the ‘grr’), you’ve seen it, cows being herded by a bellowing herd man cracking a whip. It teaches cows to associate us with stress.
Keith’s philosophy is that cows must never be stressed like that so they aren’t shooed, or herded in this way. When they are moved between camps, a gate is opened which opens up a new region of fresh grazing for them. This happens every day so that they never get bored and are always grazing on fresh vegetation. The cows are so excited, they line up in front of the gate and skip about when it’s open! I got to witness the changing of the camp routine with his son, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, all he did was open the gate and shouted ‘kom, kom, kom’ in as affectionate a tone as I’d expect him to use on a poodle and they all moved peacefully through with no further prompting, simply excited to get to new grazing.
I marvelled at the knowledge his son Willem has of each animal. There you stand with this massive herd of cows walking past, and Willem is going ‘see that one over there, she was so weak at birth but now she’s a feisty thing’, ‘see that one there, he is so curious, he’ll always come up and see what you’re doing’, I was captivated by this and so was my son who did the trip with me. He remarked on how much it struck him that of a herd that was about 250 to 300 strong they were all individuals to Willem. It’s like that there.
They have the system of camps set up so incredibly that each camp of about 10HA each is only grazed on for 2 days a year! For the rest, the soil and veldt is left to recover and there are so many of them – 192 – that cows are able to graze in a new camp every day! It’s incredible!
Keith says that it’s also important for a cow’s morale that it moves to new pasture everyday so that they don’t get bored. He said they respond so happily to the move and cows literally get depressed much like we would if they are confined to the same space every day.
What these farms look like when you drive past is literally acres and acres of unadulterated wild bush veldt. I visited Keith and the region in the middle of Winter and the veldt still was teeming with life, the cattle fat and my spirit just filled up, swelled up in fact as we drove deeper and deeper in. It felt like I was filling up with a whole and expansive set of peace. It’s so quiet and unaffected there.
You can literally drive for hours without passing any human settlement, any cars, any life and you’re just spoilt with the vastness of nature in front of you laid out in all her African glory.
Grass Not Grain….
For roughly the first half of the drive West from Joburg to Vryburg which is roughly 2.5 hours long, you’re surrounded by conventional grain farms to your left and right.
It’s literally a drive for all that time where you are surrounded by dry, dead soil. You pass massive flour and grain mills amongst all of this ‘lifelessness’. I shudder at this because it confirms my own personal belief that the farming of grain causes more damage to soil than anything else. It’s so far from natural to clear out acres of acres of soil and plant life and whole delicate eco-systems to plant one crop in dead soil which you prop up with artificial fertilizer and use pesticides to destroy all other life. Never mind that most of this is grown to feed animals in feedlots, animals whose digestive systems weren’t designed to eat grain in the first place. It’s utterly insane. My opinion on this matter was cemented as I headed into Vryburg (often called ‘The Texas of South Africa’) cattle farming territory and the bush came alive.
Most of the farms in this region and the ones who will be involved in supplying Kalahari 100% Grass Fed Beef’ are farming cattle naturally. Once you enter this region and move away from the conventional grain farms, the veldt suddenly comes alive, there’s life and there’s bush and there’s unspoilt soil that hasn’t been ploughed and had all the life taken out of it to grow grain. The contrast between this and the deadness of the grain farms you’ve seen thus far is a difference felt between misery and joy.
This Kalahari veldt is so beautiful. Even just remembering it as I am writing this fills me up.
The ecology of this region is perfect to support cattle grazing naturally without human interference all year round, something difficult to achieve in other parts of our country where farmers have to supplement with grain in Winter especially to stop the cattle from getting skinny.
Keith spoke at length about how cows are not designed to eat grain. I have read so much of this recently, it comes up in the whole omega 3/omega 6 debate where we are told that our diets have become deficient in omega 3’s because animals are eating more grain than grass and so their meat is deficient in the omega 3’s they’d ordinarily get from grass and too high in omega 6’s which they’re getting from grain. Keith explains this in a lot more detail.
The largest part of the cow’s stomach, functions as a large fermentation tank. Animals that have 4 parts to their stomach like the cow are called ruminants. Sheep, goat, bison and deer are also part of this group. Inside this vat you get cellulolytic bacteria, this is the bacteria designed to digest cellulose, the major component of plant cell walls. This all makes sense because the cow is a herbivore, his body is set up to digest grasses. He can’t do this on his own though, he needs the assistance of cellulolytic bacteria, so they form a symbiotic relationship. In other words, by partnering with the cow, the bacteria get access to the perfect environment for their existence, the fermentation VAT in the rumen that has the ideal temperature and moisture for them to live and they in turn assist the cow by breaking down his food for him into the nutrients that he requires.
They eat a great deal of cellulose in their diets, but cannot digest it on their own. Cows, therefore, have formed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria and protozoa that do digest cellulose.
When cows are not eating their natural diet and instead are given grain which the modern day farmer and the feedlots prefer because grain fattens cows quickly and the farmer gets a heavier animal and a greater price for it and because grain is cheap, the chemistry of the cow’s stomach changes. The cellulolytic bacteria starts to dry up and is replaced by amalytic bacteria which expands to utilize the extra maize. The whole pH of the cow’s digestion system changes from being fairly non- acidic which is what it is meant to be, to more acidic, acidosis then sets in and inflammation and the cow’s immune system starts to weaken and suffer. Antibiotics then enter the equation as the cow is prone to disease at this point.
It fascinates me that just the cow’s belly alone contains ample evidence of the interconnectedness of all life. That’s the magic of nature, that’s the intelligence and that’s just one example of symbiosis – the practise and understanding of holism and organic agriculture too, illustrates that ALL OF LIFE IS A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP. We are all living in symbiosis and when we didn’t know that, we thought we could exploit natural resources with no consequence and instead what we did was harm our own environment ,upset the balance and we suffer from poorer health because of it. That’s just the start. The 5 hours with Keith was full of facts like this, the intelligence of it all understood by him and exposed by him creates a wondrous fairy tale of the bush and it’s real. This is the ultimate fairy-tale. It’s magical and it’s true.
Do you know too that the cow aids the nutrition of the soil and that the successful growing of grass depends on animals? At key times in the cycle of grass, cows will pass over it and increase the growth of the grass by mowing it down through chewing and in turn pushing nutrition into the soil with their tread. Their manure as well serves a vital function of nourishing the soil and contains trace elements that are vital for the soil.
The Holy Grail of Beef Is Keith Harvey’s 100% Grass Fed Beef…
So I had been wanting to find the holy grail of beef in this country, that of an animal solely eating its natural diet. I wanted us to have access to the healthiest form of beef that we can eat, that would come from the healthiest cattle we could find and I wanted to find a farm that does not include grain in any shape or form in their diet. I had come across farms who were calling their farms ‘grass-fed’ but who were still including grain and without being audited to any standard, really could supplement with as much grain as they wanted. I’ve seen grass-fed beef that clearly contains more grain than grass and yet the farm can call it grass-fed. You can never prove it, if you don’t have traceability on that carcass, you just have to take the farmer’s word for it and I don’t think that’s good enough. It’s also wide open to abuse.
I want a 100% pastured animal, I want beef that is not supplemented with grain at all so that we’re getting a healthy animal and I want a direct relationship with the farm and farmer. I want a farmer I believe in, can trust and who is wholly accessible. I want a farmer that lives his philosophy.
I left Keith knowing that if I spent the rest of my life working to help get produce from this calibre of farm more wide spread and to see more and more acres of soil returned to life like it exists here, I believe my life will have been worth it. I am happy to dedicate the rest of my life to this goal.
Even Ticks Make Sense…
Keith Harvey doesn’t even have a this so successfully, that there isn’t even a need to dip cattle or control for ticks or disease.
The tick’s role in the ecology is understood and supported, the predator of the tick is supported, and the chain of life and death is supported. Ticks only cause disease in cattle when there breeding cycle isn’t broken by the constant daily movement of cattle. In a natural system, cows move every day, in Vryburg they move every day and so the tick does not interact for long enough with the animal to cause disease. Equally the tick’s numbers do not get out of control because their predator the dung beetles are not destroyed by pesticides because this region is free from chemical interference. It is only when the natural movement of cattle is culled by constraining cattle into one place so that the tick can now stay on the animal for longer than necessary and breed and when the ticks’ predator the dung beetle is wiped out by pesticides that ticks become a problem. I even learnt that the tick too has a role to play in the cattle’s life, the tick is the ‘vector of disease’ whose function it is to immunize the cattle against disease by injecting them so to speak with a dose of I so that the cow can develop the necessary anti-bodies to survive!
This is an exceptionally special region and Keith Harvey is an exceptional man, cattle are respected in this region to such an extent that care is taken to not interfere with them too much and cows are never shooed or stressed. hit or yelled at. They are respected for being an integral part of the landscape and the fabric of our existence in the same way that every other fragment of nature’s tapestry in the veldt is loved as a part of the whole.
This is beef as nature intended. This beef too will be much higher in omega 3 fats which are the healthy fats that we need in our diets and the fats we have become deficient in. In our modern lives we have been eating less and less from animals on natural pasture eating omega 3 rich grasses. Rather our diets have become too high in omega 6’s because animals are being fed grain which they cannot digest well; it fattens them quickly but leaves both animal and human deficient nutritionally.
Cattle have on-going access to rich pasture from the rich, varied and fertile veldt. They exist here in a relationship that is as nature intended, all life dependent on the health of the other. Keith Harvey, the farmer behind this incredible oasis is a holistic farmer who dedicates his life to teaching others about the miracle of nature and proves that farming without chemicals, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, mega human interference and grain, is feasible, is rewarding and achievable.
I mean it when I say that it is an honour to make this calibre of natural beef available to us in Johannesburg. I can’t wait for you try it, let us know how you find it.
This meat will be different in texture to conventional meat and won’t have as much fat or water content so cook it for slightly less than you would conventional.
There will be more marbling of fat within the meat. Apparently when an animal is fattened at a feedlot on grain for the last part of his life which is common, it puts on a thick layer of fat on the outside which is what we’re used to seeing. Animals that have been raised on the natural veldt will not have this, rather the fat will be more marbled in the meat.