Joel Salatin workshop part 4 – Cattle, poultry and more

Polyface Farm has many enterprises going on all year round.  In spring and summer, most animals are out on pasture, in the winter, most are brought in or processed.  This post looks primarily at stocking density for cattle, the various poultry enterprises on the farm – eggs, pasture sanitization, broilers and turkeys, and a few words about Daniel Salatin’s rabbit enterprise.

Cattle: stocking density – this is rough, depends on grass quality, animals, climate, season, etc…
-300 head: 1 1/2 acres/day
-100 head: 1/2 acre/day
-2 head: 200 sq ft/day

-brix levels are highest in the evening, one reason Joel moves his cattle around 4pm. Also why people cut their hay in the late afternoon.

– farmers always talk about Average Daily Gain (ADG) as the the indicator of success, but it’s not actually what they get paid for – what they get paid for is Gain per Acre (GPA). If ADG is high, GPA will be low, and vice versa, so the trick is to find the balance.

-stockpiled forage – looks terrible, late summer grass. 100 head on 1/4 acre, they eat it and tromp it in, still builds soil.

-water systems:  Polyface uses full flow valves, 18″ cutout contains the hookup (frost free).  Polyface has a lot of ponds, building more.  the water system for all the grazing areas is from the ponds.

-ponds:  build them.  Joel is a big fan of ponds – when he’s ready to build a new one, he hires a guy with a digger to come and dig it out for him.  He doesn’t use these to catch groundwater, but rather rainwater.  He also doesn’t tap into the small river on the farm, feels river water is for everyone, he can’t justify putting a pipe in it.  By harvesting rainwater, he is able to beat droughts, and the local ecology benefits.  Since the water is used for animals, it goes back in the land anyway and makes its way to the groundwater.

-If you’re making a pond and it won’t seal, put pigs in and let them wallow.  They could probably seal a pond built in gravel (Joel Joke).

-12 feet is plenty deep for a pond.  Have the system set up so it takes water from 16″ below the surface (best water) – have the pipe come through the wall of the pond through a pond collar, and then up in the middle of the pond – hold the pipe vertical with a float of some sort.  Use flex tubing for the vertical pipe.  You will need a filter even though pulling water from below the suface.

Eggmobiles:  his first prototype was built on bicycle tires, 6 x 8 house, nest boxes over the wheels.  It held 20 hens originally, then went up to 50.  He had a hinged fence with 6 panels and 4 popholes on the house, so he set the fence up from each pophole till the area had been done, and then moved the eggmobile.  He originally did the eggmobile as a way to house a laying flock cheaply, but when he accidentally had them near the cattle and saw how they tore into cow patties, he had a eureka moment and the eggmobile idea took off.  Today he is taking advantage of economy of scale – has 2 eggmobiles hooked together (like a train).  800 birds in each.  He gets 200 dozen eggs/day from these two eggmobiles.

-with the early, little eggmobile, he didn’t feed the birds, just relied on them ranging.  With the higher density system he does feed them.

-eggmobiles are land extensive – need at least 50 acres to free range the birds, or else they’ll go to the neighbours or back to the barnyard.  They are perfect for pasture sanitization – the main advantage, the eggs are a side benefit.

-Polyface also has commercial scale pastured eggs, called the Feathernet – shelter is an A frame with scissor braces, 16 ft wide, on 3″ pipe skids, roof is 32 ft long, 20 ft wide.  1000 hens, 1/4 acre enclosed with electric net, moved every three days.  They keep guard geese with the flock to minimize predation by hawks or vultures.  Also livestock guard dog.

-In the winter, hens all come inside – hoop houses – bedding is 18″ of wood chip to start, gets added to over the winter season.  Inside some of them are 4 x 8 slatted tables with nest boxes, chicken feeders and waters.  Small pigs are on the ground, chickens are free but need the ability to get up onto the tables if need be (once they get bigger, pigs eat chickens).  Some houses have rabbits in cages up on racks in the hoop house, with chickens scratching around underneath.  The bedding is composted by the pigs and taken out to the fields when the hens are put back out on pasture in the spring.  The hoop houses are then used for veggies.

Rabbits – Daniel Salatin, Joel’s son, began with a pair when when he was 8 and has been line breeding from that pair ever since – he is now 30.  The rabbit enterprise brings in about $8000, sold mostly to restaurants.

-line breeding was a controversial topic of discussion during the workshop, but Joel pointed out that it accentuates both weakness and strength, and that Daniel culls accordingly.  In nature, animals are not picky about next of kin.  Daniel had 50% mortality rates for the first 5 years of his breeding programme – which worked out ok for him because he had a friendly banker (Joel), and was also very young.  That mortality rate might have been harder to take as an adult.

Turkeys:  brood 1 turkey poult with 5 chicks, so if you have 25 poults, put them in with 125 chicks.  Poults do everything they can to die until they’re a few weeks old, but the chicks will show them food and water which significantly improves their chance of survival.  Joel, like most of us, thought turkeys and chickens couldn’t be mixed because of blackhead, but his daughter in law’s family had always done it that way, so he gave it a try and it works. (as an aside, my hatchery catalogue recommends the same practice). At 7 weeks, put the turkey poults out on pasture.  If they go out before that, they can get through the squares on the netting and just ignore the shock.

-the Gobbledy Go house for turkeys is a portable shelter 32 x 12 ft, and holds 500 turkeys.

About half the audience had some experience with cattle, most had chickens, and a few had raised a couple of pigs, so the type of questions led to some interesting discussions.  The slide show that went with the whole livestock presentation was wonderful.  To get some glimpses yourself go to Youtube and search for Joel Salatin or Polyface farm – many videos are by people who went to field days and you can see many of the enterprises mentioned above.  As usual, the challenge for me is to be creative enough to scale some of this down – 800 hens in an eggmobile is not going to work on 14 acres for example.  But I met a lady who has 50 birds in 3 small eggmobiles – she can push them by herself around her property. She went to this model because of predator issues, and I can totally see that working here.  So one of the big benefits of the workshop was hearing how other people do things.  Which is one reason I like reading farm blogs – there are some great ideas out there!

7 thoughts on “Joel Salatin workshop part 4 – Cattle, poultry and more

  1. We, the people of …erm…North America, in order to establish high hopes, dreams and future plans, need to know more about the Polyface rabbit operation. $8000 seems like peanuts.

    I’ll take it upon myself to draft a letter to Daniel. I’m sure he has plenty of time for fan mail this time of year.

    • I think it would be interesting to hear more about the rabbits too. I actually thought the $8000 sounded pretty good, but I don’t know if it’s gross or net. We didn’t really spend much time on the rabbit enterprise in the workshop – there was some discussion around the slats on the floor of the harepens, and heated discussion about the line breeding, and that was kind of it. So write your letter (don’t pick mid-July), and share what you get back. As an aside, it was in the local rag recently that a nearby town might change it’s bylaws to allow chickens and rabbits in backyards – as pets only.

  2. I am so glad that you found us so we could find you! I love your blog. Kindred spirits…

  3. I think I found your blog through one of your comments on Matron’s…I’m always on the lookout for people like “us” :), and when they’re in the PNW, it’s even more exciting. I’m looking forward to a good read from the beginning on your blog – I’ve only dipped into the “about” so far…

  4. farmerkhaiti says:

    just re-reading your Salatin notes….getting all pumped about cows. And now, ponds. YES!!! How close are you to thinking about raising a couple beefers? Your friend Chism Heritage Farm really got me going…

    • I am not close at all. 😦

      I was pretty pumped myself after that Salatin workshop, and I still think cattle are a good fit for this farm, but there are some practicalities that I’m seeing as obstacles for now, probably the biggest is marketing, since I direct sell all my pork and chicken right now. I have tested the waters with those customers and received a pretty mixed response for beef, for a variety of reasons.

      I’ll probably do a blog post on this, as I keep editing my reply for brevity! But suffice it to say, marketing is the biggest reason, and ties in with smaller challenges like transport and processing – not insurmountable, but more straws on the camel…

      I’ve been thinking more seriously about lamb – a better size for me, since I’m basically doing this alone, and for which I have better options for transport and processing. But marketing again – there is a LOT of lamb raised in the local area, all of it on pasture, pretty much year round. I would be doing it seasonally, and on a smaller scale, so would likely have a price dilemma.

      I also have to do some serious thinking about how to manage the hay crop in relation to the grazing pattern. This again isn’t difficult necessarily, just another factor. While the hay is no longer the main source of income used to maintain our farm tax status, I cannot quite afford to end it completely. Moreover, I would need hay for any livestock I raised, since our ground gets so muddy in the last fall, early spring. So, another straw…

      Head Farm Steward at CHF has been a huge encourager, mentor and inspiration over the last couple of years. I’m learning tons from him and from Matron of Husbandry over at Throwback at Trapper Creek.

      • farmerkhaiti says:

        that’s interesting you received mixed feedback on beef from your customers, I was going to suggest maybe putting 1/4 cow CSA shares out there as an option, and seeing if you had any sign ups. That’s what we’re doing with beef this year and already have sold 4 shares, which is a whole cow! Do your chickens and pork keep you in the farm status? Yes- do a blog post about it, it’s fascinating!

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