Remember the song and how it continues – “where the deer and the antelope play – where seldom is heard a discouraging word – and the skies are not clouded all day?” Well, as I drove up towards the uncultivated spread of land on the Golan Heights in a sturdy four-wheeled vehicle and left the winding roads for the open pastures the song flooded back into my mind. I began to sing the words and my companions, co-members of Slow Food in the Upper Galilee, looked at me and laughed. But here we were – home on the range, where at times the deer do play, where there are words of encouragement and where for many months of the year there are unclouded skies.
We had just left our meeting place at beef- breeder Moti’s farm. We met the horses which are ridden out to check on the herd and later to round up the calves after they have reached the required weight of over 500 kilo which usually takes from one and a half to two years. We heard about the growth of beef breeding in the area where some 300,000 dunams are used for natural grazings by some 50 breeders who reside in the 32 various settlements. Israel presently produces 50% of its beef requirements and on the Golan the organic and natural approach is used. In order to promote these methods the Ministry of Agriculture has set up a special section which both assists and finances certain aspects:
Development of pasture land.
Assistance with protection from theft and wild animal attacks i.e. jackals.
Purchase and importation of bulls suited to the climate for breeding purposes.
Presently there are close to 40,000 breeding cows and their grazing habits only help to promote growth in wooded areas but it is hard work – at times 24 hours a day to watch and guard against attack and fires in the long dry summer. For example Moti, member of Moshav Eliad, had 550 head of cattle on 17,000 dunam of grazing land. His partner lives permanently with his family in a small wooden house on site. Each head of cattle needs at least 17 dunam of grazing per year and in years of drought additional nourishment and water sources have to be provided. The cows are divided into areas and to each twenty cows one bull is allotted to fulfill breeding necessities; there are two calving periods in each year, one in spring and another in the autumn. It has to be ensured that all necessary inoculations are given to the herds as required. There are protected birth areas for each herd and help has to be at hand.
It has been discovered, through trial and error, that the best suited breeds to the climate and the grazing conditions are off-springs from Charolet, Simmental and American Angus and indeed one can see many examples of cross breeding out there on the range. As with the olives the breeding of cattle in this area also existed in biblical times, the area was known as Beshan and both beef and dairy herds roamed the land and sheltered under the oaks trees that then dotted the valleys and hill sides.
Amos 4: 1-2 “Hear this word you cows of Bashan…”
This was my first hair-raising ride cross-country in a four wheeled vehicle and to be truthful I was sorry I had not borrowed one of Moti’s horses and spent the day on horse-back exploring the area at ease and trying to make friends with the young calves and feeling part of nature. But that could not be – we had still to sample some of the beef and back at the ranch house two of our members had been sweating over the BBQ. I looked at the impressive slabs of beef and saw the lovely heifers and sad eyes of the mother cows in my mind and I must be truthful, I just could not bring myself to sample the steaks. The beef of the Golan now provide 40% of local Israel production and is in demand by all our gourmet food experts.