Spier Biodynamic Farm: Pasture-reared beef, lamb, and chicken taste so good because they eat so good!
Saturday 19th November 2011 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
I had heard of @FarmerAngus McIntosh, as he calls himself on Twitter, for the first time at Caffé Milano a year ago, when I asked them about the origin of their incredibly yellow eggs. Vanessa Quellec, Pastry chef at the time, gave me a bound booklet about Spier’s Biodynamic Farm, describing the pasture-reared production of beef, chicken, lamb and eggs. Yesterday I spent an interesting afternoon with South Africa’s ‘Al Gore’ and ‘Michael Pollan’!
Angus McIntosh fell into farming whilst building his large home on the Spier farm, renting from his father-in-law Dick Enthoven. He had been a management accountant and worked in London at Goldman Sachs. It was reading Michael Pollan’s ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma‘ that turned his career and life around, and now he is this country’s only pasture-fed meat and egg supplier to most of the top restaurants in the Cape, and soon to expand to Johannesburg too. “I wanted to produce food that I could eat with a clean conscience“, he said. Angus is young, walks barefoot, speaks fluent Zulu, and looks very relaxed for being the meat supplier to a collection of the top restaurants. I was surprised that his phone did not ring all the time. He has ordering and delivery organised, with a once a week delivery to Cape Town and the Winelands. Orders are placed by chefs on Tuesday, but Farmer Angus can assist in case of need. One can hear that he has become friends with many leading chefs in the past two years of operating his business, and he reflected how tough business was for restaurants in May, June and July, which he could see in terms of their orders decreasing sharply. In this period Farmer Angus learnt ‘Expectation Management’, in planning his production to supply chefs consistently. Since the beginning of this month business has boomed, he said. Restaurants that serve Farmer Angus’ produce, which is cut to their specification (Harald Bresselschmidt of Aubergine is an exception, taking a whole carcass which he cuts up himself) include Delaire Graff, Buitenverwachting, Pierneef à La Motte, The Tasting Room, The Mount Nelson (for which Farmer Angus is rearing guinea fowl with his chickens especially, he told me), Rust en Vrede, Terroir, The Round House, De Oude Bank Bakkerij, 96 Winery Road, Bread and Wine, and Eight at Spier.
Farmer Angus’ wife was in London for business yesterday, and is only involved in the running of the Spier empire in planting indigenous and endemic trees and shrubs on the farm, these not only acting as a wind break, but also adding nutrients to the soil and attracting insects, which helps bring balance back to nature on the farm. They also have a vegetable and herb garden, delivering only to Eight at Spier, but elderflowers are supplied to Aubergine, Le Quartier Français, The Round House, and Rust en Vrede.
When he explained about the inhumane ‘production’ of chicken, Farmer Angus’ real passion comes to the fore. He said that 98 % of our supermarket chickens are battery hens, whose beaks are cut to prevent them from ‘cannabilising’ each other in the small space in which they grow. At Spier no de-beaking takes place, Farmer Angus saying that this is ‘unethical and inhumane’. His produce is ‘honestly priced’, he says, not adding any brine to his chicken feed, and his chicken rearing does not cause any environmental damage – in fact, it is adding to nature. The growing of feed for cattle production is what is causing the environmental damage, and he said that if only 10 % of the world’s cows were reared his way, then all carbon problems would be eliminated, and the carbon would be stored in the soil. He explained about the mass production happening at the country’s two major beef suppliers Chalmar and Karan, these brand names are often specified on menus (i.e. at Reuben’s), but their production methods do not meet Farmer Angus’ approval, the latter farm only having 10 square meter per animal, they spray the animals per aeroplane, and inject the cattle. Farmer Angus highlighted Chef Christiaan Campbell of Delaire Graff as the biggest champion of Spier’s grass-fed meat production. Spier has a mix of cattle, including Nguni, Hereford and Beefmasters, as well as Dormer lambs.
We drove around the 600 hectare farm, on which the grapes are grown for the award-winning Spier wines, and Farmer Angus uses 54 hectare for his meat and egg production. He showed me the chicken production in its various stages. I thought the chicks listening to beautiful classical music was very cute, giving them a harmonious start to life. They are moved into different sections based on age, and ultimately are placed outside in the ‘pastured poultry houses’ he calls Eggmobiles, which are mobile nesting vehicles for 80 chickens each, 12 square meters in size, in which the eggs are laid, and which are moved daily. I saw the difference in height of the pasture from the previous day compared to the section for the next day, and the chicken manure goes back into the soil, helping to regrow the grass, a natural cycle. His chicken are slaughtered by hand, ‘as humanely as possible’. Farmer Angus contrasted this to the 25000 chickens a day slaughtered by County Fair, with their questionable claim of ‘home of quality chicken’, their feed containing chicken parts too. Farmer Angus mixes and matches the pastures for his animals, and has to safeguard his lamb section electronically at night, to prevent theft. Grass-fed meat is healthier, with omega 3 to 6 fatty acids in balance, reducing cholesterol, and is healthier to eat for diabetics.
Farmer Angus is so passionate about what he does, that he encourages chefs and their kitchen teams and restaurant staff to visit the farm. Mother City Slow Food visited the farm earlier this year, and while I was unable to attend, I participated in a buying share of parts of a carcass with other members. Farmer Angus has just introduced home delivery to private homes too, but then one must take half or a whole lamb, at R91,20 per kg. Eggs cost R33 per dozen, and chicken R45,60 per kg. Delivery for orders over R500 is free. Melissa’s, Giovanni’s, Tokara DeliCatessen, Wellness Warehouse, Continental Butchery in Kloof Street, and the Somerset West Spar are some of the outlets selling Farmer Angus’ produce.
Diclosure: Farmer Angus gave me a packet of mince, a jar of chicken stock, and a dozen eggs to take home to try.
Spier Biodynamic Farm, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch. Tel 082 680 8978. No website. Twitter: @FarmerAngus.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage