On Angus MacIntosh’s farm, chickens are housed in Eggmobiles and are moved daily to live off the land.
Farmer Angus McIntosh’s ‘green transition’ happened when he left his corporate career as an accomplished stockbroker in London to return home to South Africa to build a clay home and become a barefoot regenerative farmer.
Angus McIntosh runs a biodynamic farm in the Stellenbosch area of the Western Cape, South Africa. The ‘regenerative agriculture’ system is facilitated by rotationally grazing the pigs, cattle and chickens in the pastures. The hens are housed in Eggmobiles, 22 in total, each housing 325 Amberlink and Leghorn birds.
McIntosh believes in biodynamic and regenerative agricultural principles and practices and applies these in raising the farm’s animals, which include laying hens, broilers, pigs and cattle, alongside vegetable and wine production. His farm, Spier, in the beautiful Stellenbosch area of the Western Cape, South Africa, was the first farm in the world to be paid carbon credits for increasing the carbon content in the soil of the pastures where the livestock graze. Farmer Angus Eggs, which is the egg production unit of the farm, is proudly 90% black-owned and 51% women-owned, and all the employees on the farm begin every other day with a ‘morning circle’ which Farmer Angus says is “to build a bit of comradery, is something fun, is a brain exercise, and to build the farm community.”
“The cornerstone of regenerative agriculture is the rotation of animals across the land,” says McIntosh, adding: “Regenerative agriculture has 3 main goals, which are: to produce nutrient-dense food; to heal the Earth; and to create employment.” This is facilitated on the farm by rotationally grazing the pigs and cattle, as well as the chickens that are housed in Eggmobiles. About 18 varieties of perennial plants, grasses and legumes are also planted on the land.
Eggmobiles are mobile chicken houses that are moved to new pasture every day. Inside the unit, the nest boxes are painted black and are filled with sawdust and two handfuls of diatomaceous earth which keeps the skin free of parasites. The floor of each unit is mesh, while solar panels control the lighting which is used to extend normal daylight in the winter months, keeping the total light at 15 hours and 30 minutes. No heating is provided.
The hens are let out during the day to forage and peck, and then return at night to where they are warm and safe from predators. Eggs are collected 3 times a day from the nest boxes in the middle of the Eggmobiles. Angus McIntosh currently has 22 Eggmobiles, each housing 325 Amberlink and Leghorn birds. The chickens arrive at the farm at 19 weeks of age and are kept for 64 weeks. He and his team – 1 worker can handle 4 Eggmobiles (1300 birds) – collect about 5100 eggs a day. Flocks are vaccinated for Newcastle disease and infectious bronchitis, but the birds are never given routine antibiotics or hormones.
According to the farm’s director, Thobelani Mngomezulu, the Eggmobiles are moved every day to fertilise the pasture and to avoid over-fertilising the soil. “We get our chickens to graze on our pasture to ensure they lay the most nutritious eggs,” he said, adding that the enormous amount of manure and urine that is deposited onto the soil eliminates the need to apply any artificial fertilisers. The chickens are fed 85% non-GMO, glyphosate-free laying mash which is specifically formulated for the farm. Each hen consumes an average of about 140g per day.
“The great advantages of this business are that the hens are healthy and happy, and they produce the most nutrient-dense eggs,” says Farmer Angus who, together with his team, is developing a big turnkey egg production facility in conjunction with South Africa’s Department of Agriculture with the aim of growing the farm’s Eggmobile concept.
With increasing demand from consumers for sustainable farming practices, as well as calls for improved animal welfare throughout the production process, the Farmer Angus philosophy and brand has a loyal following, and it is growing. McIntosh notes: “Most clients don’t want to support the caged system which produces 96% of all eggs in South Africa. We produce the most nutritious eggs in the land and our customers love them.”
Regenerative agriculture builds soil resulting in healthy plants. Animals feeding on these pastures provide humans with a healthy food source.” – Angus McIntosh
A third of the farm’s egg production is supplied to the hospitality industry and the remainder is distributed through a network of nationwide retailers. Although they are not the most expensive eggs in the retail environment, Farmer Angus is indeed a premium brand and South Africans can expect to pay 3 times the price of non-free-range eggs. In addition to eggs, and for the convenience of bakery and ice-cream clients, Farmer Angus also sells egg white or egg yolks in 1 litre or 5 litre boxes, and for local clients, egg whites are also sold in 500ml bags.
“The cleanest egg of them all. The trust that comes with each egg from Farmer Angus’ farm is huge. The methods of farming, the diet and care the birds receive accounts for the high nutrient density of each egg. Scientifically proven to have very high levels of vitamin A, B6 and D. The strength of the shell and its whiteness further testify to its purity. It’s the egg of choice for those who are hyper-allergic to any GMO or soya ingredients. Finally, the colour, taste and texture are the one chosen by top chefs and good cooks,” says Gary Jackson of Jackson’s Real Food Market and Eatery in Johannesburg.