Letting a group of foraging pigs loose onto marginal land is an excellent method of regenerating the soil back into production and is an environmentally friendly practice. That’s exactly the type of farming Angus McIntosh is trying to operate in South Africa.

Regenerative agriculture builds ups the soil resulting in healthier plants, which in turn feeds the animals from the pastures producing grass fed protein for humans to consume. Angus McIntosh made a bit of a detour before starting his journey in regenerative agriculture. He grew up on a cattle ranch in KwaZulu-Natal before embarking on a career as a stockbroker in London, UK. After 4 years of buying and selling he returned to South Africa in 2004 with his wife Mariota Enthoven, whose family own Spier Wine Farm near Stellenbosch, Western Cape province, to pioneer his own pasture based farming system on the farm.

Farm visit: "Pigs are like the ultimate tractor"

Name: Angus McIntosh
Function: Owner
Farm: Spier Wine Farm, located near Stellenbosch, Western Cape province, South Africa, is steeped in history dating back to 1692 and extends to 650 ha broken down into 150 ha for a hotel complex and organic vegetable garden; 18 ha of wine grapes; 126 ha irrigated farmland; 200 ha of winter grazing and 156 ha of a fynbos biome restoration area. Apart from keeping 200 pigs, he also has cattle, sheep and hens.

McIntosh was also the first farmer in the world to sell carbon credits for increasing the carbon content in the soil of the pastures where the livestock graze, back in 2014.

Pigs roam the poorer land and are moved once per week to new pasture. - Photos: Angus McIntosh

Pigs roam the poorer land and are moved once per week to new pasture. – Photos: Angus McIntosh

Outdoor enterprise since 2016

“Farmer Angus,” as he is known in Western Cape province, explains how the outdoor pig enterprise that was born in 2016, is managed. “We run 150 cattle, 8,000 laying hens in egg mobiles, a small lamb operation and the pig operation on the irrigated land. Our pig numbers change all the time but basically we buy in Large White/White Duroc crosses as weaner pigs and fatten them up.

“The aim is to provide carcasses of 110kg at around nine months old to the producer of our charcuterie which is the only meat cured without added nitrates or nitrites in South Africa. Initially, on two occasions, we tried using sows and breeding our own young pigs from them but without success so now we buy in weaners and fatten them outdoors.”

McIntosh continues, “Pigs are like the ultimate tractor, except they fertilise the soil while loosening it and don’t have any breakable parts, nor cause compaction. My definition of a pig is that it is a tractor that you eat when it has finished working.”

Water is provided from a mobile tanker in the field.

Water is provided from a mobile tanker in the field.

No fixed housing for the pigs

McIntosh keeps up to 200 pigs and does not have any fixed housing for them. They are kept on the rougher land that is destined for reseeding and are moved to fresh ground regularly at least once a week. In the fields he places little triangle structures made out of zinc-aluminium that are closed on two sides and the top. Those provide shade for the pigs protecting them from the sometimes harsh sun and they can be easily moved by 2 people. He uses a series of PVC pipes connected to a mobile tanker to provide a fresh water supply for the pigs.

McIntosh bases his farming system on the high density grazing methodology or ‘mob-grazing’ utilising the manure and urine that is deposited onto the soil by the animals to eliminate the need to apply any artificial NPK fertilisers.

The pastures were established with a variety of different perennial summer and winter legumes, herbs and grasses. Once an area has been grazed, the animals are moved giving the pasture and soil time to regenerate and fully recover. A minimum of six weeks passes before the pastures are grazed again.

Solar powered electric fences keep the pigs in the right place.

Solar powered electric fences keep the pigs in the right place.

When the pigs are ready for slaughter and the pig meat is processed, McIntosh has his own method of retailing it to achieve the best returns. He says, “Our pigs are fed the only non-GMO pig food in South Africa at a rate of 2.7kg per pig per day. It is bought in from Profile Feeds as we don’t grow any crops ourselves. Mineral licks are also provided and, once a week the local big retailer drops off around eight tons of expired fruit and veg which we feed to the pigs as well.”

He added, “The pigs are sold to our charcuterie producer at the market price when they are ready. Then we buy the cured meat back and resell it to retail outlets ourselves.”

After 24 hours on this scrub land the pigs have made quite a difference.

After 24 hours on this scrub land the pigs have made quite a difference.

Mortality rate is low

Using this pig production system McIntosh says his mortality rate is very low only losing around three pigs per year. He also insists that no pigs are lost to thieves as the land is off the beaten track and because the pigs are almost impossible to catch. Also, he adds that antibiotics are only used when absolutely necessary and the pigs receive a dewormer along with their feed.

McIntosh says, “African Swine Fever is present in the local area but we don’t change any of our protocols. Our pigs are healthy because they live outdoors. The really only other major challenge we face is getting the market to appreciate and accordingly pay for outdoor raised pork.”

On the pig enterprise McIntosh employs 2 staff who live in the local township. Plenty of local labour is available but he also likes to use technology to increase efficiencies when it comes to managing the pigs. McIntosh says, “We are not investing heavily in new technology but we do use solar powered temporary electric fences to manage the pigs in the fields keeping them in the right place, which I have to say are superb.”

McIntosh says the areas that the pigs have grazed had a 24% higher carbon content compared to areas just metres away where they had not been scavenging. In fact, 7,101 tonnes of CO2 has been sequestered on the farm since 2017. Such is the success of McIntosh’ type of regenerative farming.

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