Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Notes From Polyface

There are a few things that one notices right off the bat when exploring Polyface Farm. First, the lack of machinery. No plows, disk, drags, planters, silage wagons or any of the other contraptions that make farming so expensive to get into. They do have machinery for haying but not much else. Second, almost every form of animal housing is on wheels or skids. The whole system revolves around mobility. The cornerstone philosophy that guides all facets of the system is a simple one. Animals are healthiest when they are happy. An animal is happiest when they can act in the way that God created them to act. Joels says, "We want a chicken to be able to fully express its chickeness, a cow its cowness and a pig its pigness". Using this basic idea the Salatin's have created farming enterprise that supports 3 generations while not using antibiotics, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Another thing that makes them unique is the idea of complimentary enterprises. All the different kinds of animals work together instead of competing for resources. The shelters were very simple and not very fancy. The folks who were out with tape measures and note pads tring to make plans for the assorted movable shelters missed the point, I think. I didn't take long to see that these things were made with available resources in an inexpensive manner. What you make your eggmobile or shadmobile out of should depend on your available materials. If you paid attention you also noticed that they were always updating and changing and improving the shelters. The take home message here was simple, use your imagination and build it from the most affordable materials in your area. The part of the day I enjoyed most was Joel's talk on "relationship marketing". He said we don't want just loyal costumers, we want them to be evangelists. According to Joel we want, "Pastured Poultry Carismatics!" He talked about the pros and cons of farmgate, farmers market, restraurnt, and metropolitan buying clubs as ways to sell products. He touched on pricing a little. He said we need to make a profit and not try to compete with Walmarts artificially low prices. But he also said that he doesn't sell things for whatever the market will bare either. Just because you may be able to get $5 a dozen for eggs doesn't make it ethical. He stressed the fact that we should be able to sleep well at night knowing we didn't take advantage of others. The food was great. Its always nice to munch on chicken that didn't soak up a lot "fecal soup". One thing I really liked was the way he makes compost out of the beefers bedded pack before they spread it on the pastures. They use a lot of carbon (bedding) in the pack and also spread shell corn in it. The shell corn ferments in the manure and when the cows go out to grass the pigs come in and dig for corn turning and aerating the pack. The resulting compost is applied to the land instead of raw manure. There were many vendors such as Acres USA and Premier Fence there to visit. The people were all wonderful and we got to chat with a lot of folks from all over the US. I heard there were even some people from across the ocean there as well. It was well worth the trip and we learned some things and were encouraged by the number of people there. Its hard to write down everything we saw and learned, so if anyone has questions feel free to ask.


At 7/27/2005 10:57 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks for the report, Scott. Sounds like a very profitable time. Be sure to post more as you remember anything else that struck you.

You said, "First, the lack of machinery. No plows, disk, drags, planters, silage wagons or any of the other contraptions that make farming so expensive to get into."

But Joel does not row-crop at all does he? He is strictly dealing with grass/pasture if I am not mistaken.

It would be interesting to see what equipment would be neccessary for a successful market-gardening CSA venture. For small scale, I don't think that most of those implements are that expensive and seem to be ubiquitous in my neck of the woods.

At 7/27/2005 11:20 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

Hey Jeff

No, Joel dosen't grow any row crops. I know a lot of grass farmers that plow and fit up ground for new seedings and such. I have found there are better ways to establish good pasture though. I have 4 upright silos on my place, but don't fill them with grass silage becouse I can't afford the fleet of machines I need to do it. If I ever did fill them I'd hire it done from someone who already made the huge investment.

The equiptment you would need for a small market garden CSA wouldn't cost too much. A lot of the smaller stuff is pretty cheap now a days. There is a lot of stuff that old timers will even give you. When we were kids we used travel around looking in hedgrows for old farmalls and implements. Many times they would let us just haul it away. We'd spend our evenings in the shop fixing it up. My friend Ethan built a whole line of equiptment that way. Plows, discs, planters, drags, tractors, even an old Allis Chalmers left hand direct cut forage chopper! He had quite a fleet of misfits but they got the job done.

At 7/27/2005 5:59 PM, Blogger Northern Farmer said...

That must have been something going there. There's been so many things here that are right with Joel's way of thinking, not all by any means because every farm is different, but enough to keep this place in the family as far as I can see.

Speaking of silos, I'm on the northern edge of one of the largest dairy areas in the country and you wouldn't beleive all the silos that are empty. It's not cost efficient to fill them anymore.We don't even have one, always just made a packed pile, but now for what it would cost to buy a mid-sized JD riding lawn mower we're making a pit.And if I ever give up making silage it looks a little like an ancient Greek theater so there's a backup plan anyhow. It would hold a couple hundred people.

Anyway, I'm glad that you and your family had a safe trip!



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