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My trip to Polyface Farms and the chance to interview Joel Salatin  RSS feed

 
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Everyone in a while you get to do something really cool that you are exceptionally proud of.

Last week, I got to visit Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA. The Coup de Grace was actually getting to meet the man himself, Mr. Joel Salatin!

The farm is amazing and it is so exciting to get to see things that you have read about or watched on Youtube.

I blogged about it here with pictures, video and audio from the farm: http://pantryparatus.com/blog/polyface_farm/

Leave a comment if you like.

Wilson
 
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Wow Wilson, lucky you. What an experience! I'd love to see it all first hand as I guess it really cements the ideas he puts over.
 
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I had the chance to get out there too about 3 years ago. It was before I had a blog, so I never wrote about it!

While I wasn't disappointed in my visit like Jay was, I would certainly say it was different than what I had thought it was going to be. The rabbit-chicken house smelled so bad that my eyes were burning just looking in. On the other hand, his pastured laying hens looked great. It's all different systems, different tolerance levels, etc.

I found Joel himself to be very personable and he answers all of my questions kindly. I think he is genuine.
 
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Jay - If you are going to say that , perhaps you should point out the specific practices that are deceptive to the public. I for one have a few heroes but I don't worship anyone as infallible. I think this approach to agriculture is new and developing and pioneers push some boundaries . Outright fraud is another matter.
 
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Marissa Little wrote:The rabbit-chicken house smelled so bad that my eyes were burning just looking in.



If eyes are burning that means there is too much ammonia, bad for the poor critters.

 
steward
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If the human nose can detect ammonia in your broiler facility, you are losing about a ¼ - ½ pound of meat per bird. Mississippi State Univ has done several studies on the matter. Here is the shortened version of the results:
http://www.poultry.msstate.edu/extension/pdf/cktalk3.pdf

 
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wayne stephen wrote:Jay - If you are going to say that , perhaps you should point out the specific practices that are deceptive to the public. I for one have a few heroes but I don't worship anyone as infallible. I think this approach to agriculture is new and developing and pioneers push some boundaries . Outright fraud is another matter.



I visited in mid-April. One instance, and there were many, is the Racken house. I found it very overstocked with hens and the majority of them had increased feather loss, pale combs, and an overall unhealthy appearance. They were attempting to lay in too few nest boxes and some were jammed with three hens trying to lay in the same nest. Many hens had just laid on the floor in various places and I found one hen that looked dead but was merely very pale and listless, brooding a clutch of eggs under the edge of a feeder. I know broodies can look this way, so no bother but she too was missing a lot of feathers as well. Many hens were completely bare-backed and had feathers missing around the tail and vent. The waterers were thick with green mold on the surface of the reservoir.

I've been raising chickens for over 35 years so I can pretty well tell if a chicken has normal molt/feather loss, if it's rooster induced or from overstocking and the resulting feather picking. This was mid-April, no chicken should be in molt then and there wasn't a rooster in the place. Overstocking, filthy conditions, obvious poor conditioning of the animals. In his books he expounds on letting chickens express their "chicken-ness" and on how bright, shiny feathers and healthy appearances should look on a chicken...not a chicken in the place would I keep on my own land. I didn't witness one healthy looking bird.

I witnessed dead rabbits in the cages with other rabbits climbing over top of them and flies buzzing around. Their stiff and flattened appearance tells me that they had been there for awhile. I've also raised meat rabbits, so I know how to raise them for optimal health. If full grown rabbits are dying in cages, one needs to explore the reason...and maybe, just maybe remove the dead animals? I listened to him speak on raising rabbits years ago and loved the talk and agreed with his methods and beliefs....then I saw the reality of his rabbits.

The pastured layers also were missing many feathers though they had paddocks on which to graze. They weren't overstocked to the area of forage but the eggmobile was much too small for that many birds. They too lacked the gloss and bright nature of a healthy flock, even though they had fresh pasture...something isn't right there. Mid-April is the time when everyone's flocks should look their best and here were these raggedy hens all over the place?

At his store I didn't see any eggs labeled as non-pastured eggs, so that left me wondering if the hens in the Racken House eggs were not sold? Or were they sold under the "pastured" label at the inflated price?

The pasture pens of broilers were also overstocked, with the grass under the pen merely trampled and covered in feces rather than "grazed" as he asserts. He also offers continuous feeds and, as anyone who raises broilers can attest, if offered feeds at all times, they will rarely, if ever, prefer to forage. Not that they could "forage" anything in their 10x10 tin box full of 50-75 other pooping, trampling, pushing broilers. The grass is yellow and compressed after they've been there but it isn't due to being grazed.

The cattle were in lush, knee deep pasture that was simply lovely...and they were squirting the most liquid feces I'd ever seen on a cow that didn't have Johnes. We were literally straddling over rivers of poop as we walked into the pasture. In his book he goes so far as to show a healthy "cow pat", as he refers to it, and describes it in detail. He also derides those who feed in CAFOs for the liquid stool shooting out the backsides of their cattle. He also explains that when he puts his cows out on spring grass he provides hay to balance their rumens and that the cows will eat from the hay ad lib if given a chance and know how much to eat to keep rumen balance so they won't get bloated or grass scours.

There wasn't a hay bale in sight and I asked how long the cows had been out on this grass, he replied they had been out on the grass for two months and even before I could ask about their feces, he interjected, "It's VERY rich graze." and then changed the subject. I'm thinking, "Yes, Mr. Salatin, I can see that...I'm not like the rest of the city folk on the tour and I have read the books. Where's the healthy cow pats you are so proud of and why do your cattle squirt "all their nutrition out their backsides" as you criticize other farmers? I didn't say it but my mind,by this time, had its little hand up in the back of the class.

I won't go on...but I could. You may think the sun rises and sets in Mr. Salatin because he is so very sustainable in his farming practices. Yes, he has great methods for pasture building and land management. Yes, he has some great ideas on animal husbandry. And, yes, he has let his greed and ego override his first intentions, IMO, and it's all about the marketing now.

He was rude to the children on the tour and downright sarcastic towards their parents, he was also inconsiderate of the people on the tour...it was advertised as a wagon tour and it was raining and cold. When we arrived, he stated he didn't want to get his tractor wet and it was now going to be a walking tour. So, many people without the proper foot wear, elderly and children right along, were traipsing through very wet, muddy, rivers of feces, brush covered pathways, etc., to hear his talk. When any question was asked that would delve beneath what we were seeing or what he was telling, it was met with a terse reply and a change of subject. Only questions from those clearly new to a farm or anything on one were answered at length and it was usually questions one would hear from a grade school class that had never been on a farm.

I found his marketing practices deceptive(pasture raised broilers implies they eat the pasture and are not merely standing on it while eating commercially designed feeds, eggs from pastured hens does not mean eggs from overstocked hoop houses) and his overall attitude arrogant. I found his animal husbandry methods sounded good in the book but weren't applied at his own place. I found he is a great showman and a great publicist for himself. He also professes Christianity but I didn't see any evidence of that either, neither in his talks, in his treatment of the people there nor in his inflated pricing and marketing practices.

I guess I just like truth in advertising.

You can visit his place and it may look completely different by now or you may see other things when you go, YMMV, but an experienced eye can see what I saw and I won't be reading anymore books or watching anymore videos from that source. I've applied some of his methods at my place and they were good....I just wish he would do the same.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I couldn't keep reading when you went into detail about the dead rabbits. That is enough for me. I don't need to know more details to see the practices at Polyface are not good animal husbandry.



 
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This is sad to hear. Also am/was a huge fan of Joel's.

Did some searching, and my guess is he's too occupied with books, talks, and marketing these days and the farm's suffering because of it. If you go to their Yelp page (food reviews) at (URL), you'll see 5 star reviews up through mid-2010 or so, and then two 1 star reviews explaining how overpriced and bad their meat tastes (particularly the prepared foods like sausages and bacon). Apparently his wife's running the farm now, and customer service is bad, along with perhaps the operations (based on comments above).
 
wayne stephen
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Wow , OK . I use movable pens for broilers , turkey , and to get my pullets ready to lay without getting eaten first. Then I free range them. I have kept birds in the pens at the ratio Salatin uses and - you are correct- the grass is completely covered in feces and trampled down.Then it burns back. 3 weeks later I get a flourish of new growth - emerald green and the soil stays well softened for all year. However the birds cannot graze all day. Now I keep half or less the amount in the pens and they graze all day . The manure is obvious at the end of the day but not coating the ground like a pancake. The grass does not burn back - except where they have crowded to sleep. And I do feed them a ration , but they can't wait to get to the next spot everyday to dig in to the pasture. I am only raising meat for our table though and this chicken tractor system is brilliant. After I slaughter the 10 crosses in the pen I will keep the 10 layers for 6 more weeks and then go down to just the 3 turkeys. I modified the larger Salatin style pen into 2 6x10 foot pens.It fits between fruit trees better , too. I will start 20 or so broilers again in June. And again in the fall so I can keep the population smaller in each cage. I have never felt the need to tractor rabbits . I have just used a sickle and cut them a handfulof clover/grass hay. besides that is one critter my daughter will not allow on the table - too cute. I have a brooder house using deep bedding - I just keep adding layers of organic material between batches and the bedding does not smell and is now producing worms and beetles that the birds get at from day one. So the problem seems to be volume. Which is the goal of business not a homestead so much.
 
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Don't know about Joel as I have never met him but I had a chance to spend 3 days with Jackie Clay and her husband Will (Backwoods Home Magazine). It was a wonderful seminar! She and Will are funny, knowledgeable, and generous with their information and time. And the food was great too! There is another seminar scheduled in July (check out her blog for dates).
 
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I am discouraged by the disparaging remarks about Polyface/ Salatin farms. I don't disbelieve the reports but I suggest that they may not be the norm. I too visited the farm this April 2012. I was very impressed with the setting, the animals, the techniques and his willingness to be transparent. Salatin's ability to access the mainstream has done much to awaken the minds of people who value local, nutritious, sustainable food. And perhaps awaken the people who previously did not have such values.
 
Tyler Ludens
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They may have gone through a bad patch with too much work which overwhelmed the crew and made them unable to care for the animals properly.
 
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See, this is what I wonder about...the only book of his I have read is "This ain't normal" and I enjoyed it, but like everything I take it with a grain of salt..the book also kept me so pissed off it took a week to read it...I >really< do not like my country sometimes...anyhow..I see the biggest most likely problem with his methods as being overcrowding...what happens when the demand for the product goes through the roof...do you add whole new units of production? certainly not in the same space..you can only push ma nature so far before you get your ass handed to you...or you wind up being another "certified organic" or whatever hooyah term of the day amuses the customer..but you are still just a CAFO....

I will likely read his other books, I will almost definitely apply some of those methods...I will not bite it hook line and sinker...remember...he is selling something..and doing quite well at it apparently..

Old Bill..gave his pamphlets to the world...

I will say this...he is spot on correct about the gubmint...I won't go further than that, as if you want to hear about politics form e you shoud look me up on facebook..but it ain't pretty...funny though.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Lloyd George wrote:what happens when the demand for the product goes through the roof...



I think this must be a difficult and temptation-laden time for many people, when their principles may fly out the window for $$. Even good people may face that temptation. If it happened at Polyface, I hope they got over it fast and got back to a proper relationship to the animals and the land.
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