Part time to Full time Farming

Fooling around on the interwebs tonight, I came across a recent video of Joel Salatin that I hadn’t seen before, on a topic he’s really just begun to expound on in the last year or so.  Maybe that’s not quite accurate – much of the content of the video is well known to anyone who has read Salatin’s books or seen other video clips, or even heard him at a conference.  But putting some of the information together under this one topic heading made a difference in the way I looked at it.

Some points(there were many, these are just a few) that hit me during his talk:

  • all the expertise needed to run a farm cannot fit on one torso.  A farmer needs to be a mechanic, a salesman, a carpenter, a bookkeeper, etc, as well as being able to handle animals and grow crops.  Everyone has skills lacking out of the total package, and needs to surround themselves with people who can help in those areas.
  • bundle chores.  He pointed out that a farmer needs to make sure there is time in the work day for making progress.  If the whole day is eaten up doing chores, the farm will never get ahead.  So get efficient with chores, find ways to cut time spent on routine, mundane, repetitive jobs.  Don’t allow chores to take more than 4 hours of the day.
  • Time and Motion studies.  This is old Salatin stuff.  60 seconds to move a broiler pen.  30 seconds to gut a chicken.  He’s got plenty of examples.  He challenges all of us to know this stuff for ourselves.  How long does it take to put eggs away (I think this means once they’re collected, so basically to clean them, box them and store them)?  How long does it take to feed, water and move the broilers?  etc.  We need to know these things so we know how to improve.  This obviously ties in with bundling chores.
  • Scale.  He spent quite a bit of time talking about the egg mobiles, another well known example from Polyface.  He describes the evolution of the eggmobile from 40 chickens to 800 chickens and the amount of energy, effort, time, fuel, etc that it take to do both, and why scale can make a huge difference for the farmer.  This comes up again in the Q & A near the end, and the answer is worth listening for.
  • Margins.  There are a lot of middle men in farming.  Processing, marketing, distributing, etc.  That’s where a lot of the money goes in commodity farming.  The more of that part of the industry that a farmer can keep for himself, the better.  A small farmer needs to wear more hats.  I find this particular point a little at odds with the first thing he talked about – which was leveraging expertise around you, but that might be because both are probably my weak points.  He went on to elaborate that margins are also about value adding, finding ways to make every possible part of an enterprise contribute to the bottom line.  Even chicken necks and backs.

So with that little summary, I want to credit the Practical Farmers of Iowa, who put on the conference at which this speech was recorded, and who have some great resources for all kinds of farmers.  I first learned about them from Ethan Book of The Beginning Farmer, who is an enthusiastic member.

Here’s the video:

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6 thoughts on “Part time to Full time Farming

  1. “…people have a better relationship with their John Deere than their spouse…”

    Right on. Thanks for posting this. Quite a bit different than when I saw him discuss this same topic elsewhere.

  2. farmerkhaiti says:

    i like your take away points and look forward to watching this. Not sure if you listen to podcasts (they make weeding so much more bearable), but I’ve gotten into this one “permaculture voices” and there are a couple of interviews with Salatin, as well as a bunch of other fascinating folks.

    • I’ve listened to Permaculture Voices once or twice, and it looks like there is lots of interesting stuff there, BUT, I don’t own a portable device. (out of choice,) So when I listen to podcasts, I pretty much have to be sitting in front of my computer, so the only time I do it is when I have some busy work for my hands that isn’t messy – which is why I should learn to knit 🙂

  3. Joel is a such great speaker. I’ve seen him speak in a couple of different settings now – he makes sure he “knows” his audience. The slant he took at the Permaculture Voices conference was quite a bit different than the one he used at the Mother Earth News fair last May here in Washington, but he fired ’em all up.
    I look forward to watching this video. And I second farmerkhaiti’s recommendation on the permaculture voices podcasts – they are really, really worth listening to.

  4. Bill says:

    This is good stuff.Thanks for sharing it. We’ve struggled with various things on this list at time. I dislike marketing and that was a weakness for us. Now thanks to word of mouth (and some plain hard work) that isn’t so much of a problem for us now. But we’re bumping up against the limits of what we can do because of the other issues (chores taking too much of every day, scale issues, etc). It’s a constant learning experience and the willingness to make changes is essential.

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