Six generations of the Duckitt family have owned the farm since 1865, renamed after their ancestor’s farm, Waylands, in Surrey in England. Michael Duckitt chats to us about just how Wetlands Farm has come to produce some of the finest grass fed beef in the country.
In 2002 I arrived back from an unforgettable gap year in the UK. I had come back to help my Dad on Waylands Farm which has been in the family for 6 generations since 1860. However the first thing that I saw was horrifying. There were these strange looking ugly cattle walking around the farm. Back then I was young and thought I knew it all. Everything about them was just wrong, their size, their build and they were multicoloured. I had never even heard the word Nguni until my Dad rented some grazing space to Cedric Stoch, a local farmer. It wasn’t long and Cedric became a good friend and a fantastic mentor.
A year later I bought my first 11 Ngunis and since then we have had close to a thousand Nguni calves born on Waylands. With Cedric’s guidance I quickly realised the potential of the Nguni and soon became a Nguni Stud inspector. We travelled all over South Africa seeing some magnificent Nguni herds and meeting some of the friendliest and most interesting people in the country.
After a major crop failure in 2004 we made the decision to change our farming practices from a high risk and high cost crop farming to a low risk animal farm. That was easier said than done because we still had to pay off the crop debt but we are still here and I enjoy getting up most mornings.
A few years ago if you had asked me what we farm I would have very proudly answered that we farm crops, cattle, sheep and vines. However, now I don’t farm any of those but I use them as tools to restore the land back to its former glory of days past. Some of my rewards for farming the land as I do are hearing a Fish Eagle singing Africa’s song not even 50 meters from my bedroom window, seeing the soil become alive with earthworms and of course getting to eat some of the best steak around.
Eating grass-fed beef is not only healthy but it also has the best flavours. There is the saying “you are what you eat” and my Ngunis only eat what they find on the farm. This includes grass, wild rosemary, wild sage and many other natural plants, grasses and herbs. Having a great sauce with a steak is nice but it doesn’t come close to the smell of a steak on the coals just seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. Good meat has good flavour and only needs the bare minimum of seasoning to enhance it.
There is, however, a trick to cooking grass-fed meat, whether it is beef, mutton or chicken. Free range animals use their muscles more than feed-lot animals. Additionally, their fat is physiologically different from commercial feed-lot beef. For this reason grass-fed beef could become dry and tough if not correctly cooked. The fat in commercial steak is mostly found in the meat as marbling, which needs a super-hot fire to melt. The steak then needs to come off the coals quickly before the fat drips out of the meat, causing it to lose its flavour. This is the reason we eat our steak rare. I am sure that most of our grandparents would have pulled up their noses at today’s raw steak. Grass-fed steak, on the other hand, needs much cooler coals to melt the softer fat that mostly sits on the outside of the meat. If you hear the fat dripping fast and plentiful, the fire is too hot. Only remove the steak when it has heated right through. Although this is sometimes perceived as being overdone, the steak will still be tender because the juices have not run out.
Farming with Ngunis the way that I do produces beef of exceptional tenderness and superb flavour. Nguni beef compares favourably with regard to tenderness, texture and flavour with any of the best beef breeds known.