Spier Biodynamic Farm: Pasture-reared beef, lamb, and chicken taste so good because they eat so good!


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

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22 replies on “Spier Biodynamic Farm: Pasture-reared beef, lamb, and chicken taste so good because they eat so good!”

  1. Dear Author, What qualifications do you hold and what are your references? As I am struggling to find the scientific and relevant facts to substantiate your claims?
    Regards. Sarah

  2. Dear Sarah

    Thank you for your questions.

    I did not make any ‘claims’. I reported on an interview I did with Farmer Angus McIntosh. His contact number is in the blogpost, if you wish to contact him.


  3. Chris,

    Thank you for your reply. But I must admit the article/report has many claims, even claims about health issues for example ” Grass feed meat is healthier, with omega 3 to 6 fatty acids in balance, reducing cholesterol, and is healthier to eat for diabetics.” SO doe the Diabetic Association of South Africa support and promote grass fed beef?

    But non the less can we expect a report from you about the other side of the spectrum, maybe a response from the meat industry or feedlot industry?
    This is a “hot topic” at the moment and it all seems very one sided to me. Again I am interested in the facts of the matter not personal opinion or feeling.
    Thank you once again for your reply, i will be in contact with Farmer Angus.

  4. Thank you Sarah.

    I am not sure if you clicked onto the link to the article about the health benefits of grass-fed meat in my blogpost? It may answer some of your questions.


  5. We went for a visit of the farm earlier in the year. As a chef (qualified as of 12pm today Chris!) I will not buy anything else. I am a proud locavore and slow food advocate and the guys at Spier are doing a fantastic job coupled with incredible passion for what they are doing. Well done guys!

  6. Thank you for your endorsement Mark.

    Congrats on the qualification – where will you be working, or are you starting your own restaurant?


  7. Mark, Well done with your qualification but is it fair to assume that other suppliers are not passionate about what they do? How many other supplier have you visited on their farmers?

  8. grass fed beef is shockingly inconsistent.

    It is sometimes very pale in colour, tough in texture.I certainly do not believe it has better flavour more consistently

    feedlots are far more consistent and for my money, chalmar is the best to be bought on the local market.

    Of course….now everyone has sympathy for the animal but are superquick to complain when they get a mediocre piece of meat.

    the consumer doesn’t give a toss that it is “grass-fed” when the bill comes around.

    free range beef is not to be confused with free range lamb and poultry….an entirely different product and calibre for whatever reason.

  9. Dear Ryan

    Thanks for your feedback. Have you tried Spier’s meats? Are you referring to them specifically?


  10. Dear Chris, this very interesting article from the South African Society for Animal Science(SASAS) dated, 7 December 2011 contradicts your claims that grass fed beef is better for the environment. The following is very interesting …

    “Do Intensively fed cattle produce more GHG than cattle on the veld/pasture?

    This is simply not true. GHG emission from livestock is measured either in terms of kg CO2 equivalent per kg of meat or milk available for consumption, or per area of land used. In the case of ruminants extensive systems are usually found to have a lower per-area footprint than intensive grain-fed systems, but a higher footprint if expressed in terms of kg product.

    Cattle in feedlots fatten over approximately 110 days in South Africa, which means that they produce GHG for only 110 days before they are slaughtered. For cattle on veld/pasture it requires more than 200 days to fatten because of the lower quality feed compared to a feedlot diet. Furthermore, the lower quality feed (mainly pastures that they are consuming) also produces more GHG per kilogram feed intake than the concentrates used in feedlots. The bottom line is that feedlots maximize efficiency of meat production resulting in a lower carbon footprint

    Furthermore, there is substantial evidence indicating that organic production systems consume more energy and have a bigger carbon footprint than conventional production systems. For example, organic grass-fed cattle requires approximately three times more energy per kilogramme of weight gain and release more than double the quantity of GHG’s per kilogramme of weight gain than conventional feedlot cattle. Most consumers purchasing organic products do not know that it has a higher carbon footprint.”

  11. @Reg, I agree Carne’s meat is fantastic and I don’t believe the claims made in that blog!

    @Ryan, I agree with you as well, grass fed beef is inconsistent and I agree that when we take out our hard earned money we want to have a delicious dinning experience.

  12. Dear Sarah

    You certainly are a champion for non-grass fed beef.

    Thank you for the article excerpt – please can you send a link to the full article?

    Many thanks


  13. This is always such an interesting conversation and I find it even more interesting that when the debate becomes about money vs ethics and values, money and so-called “efficient production” always wins – as if the treatment of the environment and animals can be so easily dismissed and is somehow subservient to what people like to think of as their rights as humans.

    So (one of) my (many) question(s) is, so what if the meat – or say, the size of eggs – is not always consistent? Big deal. Hens left to their own devises don’t ever lay eggs exactly the same size. But now we try and force them to, just so that we can get an extra rand for “small/jumbo and extra large eggs” (The input costs are exactly the same, and if you have ever compared eggs from different commercial producers, you will see just how inconsistent that is) Cows are grazers by nature and would not, in normal circumstances, be eating grain mixes at the levels they are forced to now. And you only have to speak to world class cheesemakers to understand how differently milk from grain vs grass fed animals behaves.

    I worked on a huge cattle feedlot in the Free State, many years before I became an investigative journalist – and the treatment of animals aside – if you had any idea of exactly what goes into the cattle feed and just how many hormones are pumped into those animals and the chemicals those animals excrete due to the stress of their transport conditions and living conditions for the 3 months they are in those feedlots, it would seriously make you think about wanting to eat them…. Just ask any of the 19 of my own, personal close friends and some relatives, living in all parts of the world, who, as we speak, are suffering from one or another form of cancer. Without exception, all have been advised by their enlightened GP’s, oncologists, surgeons and nutritionists to stay off animal protein, any kind of processed food products, and anything with any kinds preservatives at all. They have been advised to eat food that is as close to its natural form is reasonable.

    Anyway, of course, we are all entitled to our opinions, whether based on “facts” or “sentiment”. (i’m sure you will see where my “sentiments” lie!) I always just hope we are all open to different ideas and that these types of topics give us all “food for thought” in terms of how we make decisions and how we choose to live our lives.

  14. Thank you Virginia – interesting ‘food for thought’, as you write.

    On that note, have an egg-cellent Easter.


  15. great article. very useful as a source of reference for my new article. I am a fan of your site!

  16. […] Meat Merchants keep it local. Their beef is from “Spier”, their lamb from “eatkaroo”, the chicken, butter and eggs are from “Simply Wholesome”, the […]

  17. Yay! Saw your delivery truck and asked driver for contact details. Can’t wait to get family to join in to buy half lamb. I grew up in a farming community long before mass production of meat and poultry was mainstream. We raised our own chickens and they were a bit scrawny in comparison to today’s plump-looking chickens, but oh the flavour! I don’t touch chicken now. Have heard reports that we import huge stocks from China etc and it’s a shame that we can’t get communities to at least produce their own meat in the form of rabbit or chickens.To be honest, I don’t care if the beef and lamb is inconsistent in size, colour or flavour, as long as the animal was living and eating in the way nature meant it to. I used to love a Steers burger until I heard that although it’s supposedly “pure beef”, it’s not like they mince up good steak meat. No dears, they blast the remaining meat off the virtually clean carcasses with water for most processed meats! I’d like to know if this is true about burgers from the franchises too. I don’t want to demonise other forms of meat production but until they are happy to open their farms up to public visits I’ll remain sceptical. As for the cost, I’d rather have humanely reared meat twice a weak than “cheaper” produced meat every day.

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