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Polyface: calories in is greater than calories out

 
Nicholas Langis
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Will that documentary openly disclose that the Polyface "miracle" requires more grain calories in input than it produces in actual meat?

Adam Merberg wrote:
Say What Michael Pollan? The Free Lunch
...
I’ll first look at the grain used to feed Salatin’s broilers. The most recent printing of The Omnivore’s Dilemma states (page 222) that Salatin raises 12,000 broilers each year. (The productivity numbers in earlier printings were different. In fact, my copy even has different numbers in two different places.) According to Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profit$, the broilers have a carcass weight of 4 pounds, and the chickens require 3 pounds of feed for each pound of carcass weight (page 185). That comes out to 144,000 pounds of feed each year. Salatin writes that he uses a feed consisting of 52% corn, 29% roasted soybeans, 11% crimped oats, and the rest consisting of fish meal, kelp and nutritional supplements. Since I’d like my estimate of the energy content of the feed to be conservative, I’ll ignore the calorie content of everything but the grains. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find good data for calorie content of feed grains, so I’ll be using data for food-grade grains. Using USDA data for corn, soy, and oats, one finds that a mixture of 0.52 pounds of corn, 0.29 pounds of soybeans, and 0.11 pounds of oats contains a little over 1700 calories. That comes out to 244,800,000 calories in the feed grain.

Now what about the productivity of Salatin’s farm? Here things get pretty tricky. There are several different kinds of animals, and each has several different kinds of meat with different calorie densities. For rabbits, I wasn’t able to find any useful data on carcass weights. Regardless, here is the calculation in tabular form. (References are at the end of the post. Where no reference is given, the source is the version of The Omnivore’s Dilemma available on Google Books.)
Food Quantity / Energy density / Total Energy (Cal)
Beef 25,000 lb / 1163 Cal/lb 1 / 29,075,000
Pork 50,000 lb / 1062 Cal/lb 1 / 53,100,100
Broiler hens / 48,000 lb 2 / 615 Cal/lb 1 29,540,136
Stewing hens / 2,400 lb 3 615 Cal/lb 4 / 1,476,000
Turkeys / 12,000 lb5 / 541 Cal/lb 1 / 6,492,000
Rabbits / 5,000 lb 6 617 Cal/lb 7 / 3,085,000
Eggs / 360,000 eggs / 135 Cal/egg 8 / 48,600,000
Total / 171,368,236

With these very rough estimates, it appears that Polyface actually requires more calories in feed than it produces in food. ...


I am guessing an emphatic NO. Incase you didn't get it, when making open sources calculations based on his own admissions for his production of chickens and his grain feed, just to feed his chickens Salatin uses 244,800,000 input calories, which yields only 171,368,236 calories in animal based foods. The numbers are actually worse than that as his pigs are also feed 25% grain.
 
Peter Ellis
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Nicholas, you are aware that there is much more to Polyface than feed calories in, food calories out, right?

I, for one, am not inclined to throw Salatin's work out because of someone's back of the envelope figuring.

The documentary should be interesting. Everything I've seen regarding Polyface has been, so far.
 
William Whitson
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Nicholas Langis wrote:Will that documentary openly disclose that the Polyface "miracle" requires more grain calories in input than it produces in actual meat?


Every energy conversion entails a loss, so I'm not sure how it could be any other way.
 
Ce Rice
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Oh snaP, a 'hater'

Don't go doing any calorie calculations of Paul's 200 acres right now. It might be 10,000:1 calories in:calories out.

The permaculture police say 'shut it down'!!!
 
Ce Rice
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I didn't want to leave my comment as is. I went to the link and read the whole discussion on the blog that did the math.
One person commented thus:
"Point being, Salatin’s approach is much more sustainable than conventional animal farming, but he could be much more sustainable. If you want to criticize him for not making more efforts toward sustainability, that’s fine. However, if you want to argue that raising animals is inherently unsustainable or inherently less efficient, and use Polyface as an example, then you’re just mistaken."

I think that comment might be valid.

Second, on the calorie comparisons. They are crude as admitted. Only approximations, yes. But that isn't the real problem. The problem is that calories are a USDAesque measuring tool. A simple raw measure of calories rarely tells the whole tale. It's like saying that 100 lbs of metal was mined from the ground, and the miner traded it for 200 lbs of metal at the market. Wow, he must be a clever miner. But if we learn that the metal he mined was gold, and the metal he traded it for was copper, then we see that he got the short end of that stick.

The argument here, in the calorie count, is how nutritious are meat and egg calories compared with equal amounts of grain calories.
Secondly, how many grain calories would you or I need to consume in order to provide our bodies with all we need in comparison with meat calories.
Thirdly, the argument could go basically: omnivore vs vegan, as it did in the original blogger's discussion. Well, I'm a vegetable loving omnivore that also loves meat. but I'm not going to go in to any meat vs vegan discussion here. I don't have the interest in it on a forum/blog.
 
J D Horn
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Comparing grain calories to animal meat calories - really? That's the criticism? Seriously?
 
Julia Winter
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The point about Joel Salatin's farm is that he has systems feeding systems, and animals doing their species specific thing. For example, the cattle grazed intensively (did you watch the preview? remember the part where the guy was standing in the lush pasture and said "this ground has been grazed 5 times this year already"?) and then the chickens following 5 days later, to harvest the maggots from the cow pies. Or, the pigs used to make compost of the bedding in the winter time cow shelter. It's not about calories in and calories out. It's about building up organic matter in the soil. That's carbon sequestration, there.

If you're just buying crappy food at the Piggly Wiggly then certainly avoiding meat is the environmental choice. However, getting meat from a farm like Joel Salatin's is a different matter. Now, he's gone pretty huge, and there are questions about where all the baby chickens, etc are coming from, but overall I think the guy's a genius and deserves to be better known.

But hey, if you are interested in veganic permaculture, have you been here? http://www.veganicpermaculture.com
 
Ce Rice
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J D Horn wrote:Comparing grain calories to animal meat calories - really? That's the criticism? Seriously?


Um, so what .... Anyway, I don't understand what your post is saying. Count me as slow and explain a bit more.

If you are saying that a 'calorie IS a calorie', they are no different?.? ?That a simple calorie comparison is accurate and valid and without fault?.? Then I would argue, no, for the reasons I pointed out, They are not the same.

If you meant something else, please elaborate.
 
Ce Rice
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hmmm... To J D, perhaps if a quick read of my posts was made, you may have took my original posts as comments to you, they weren't.

J D, if your last post was to one of the posts that was deleted, then please ignore my message. At first I took it as referring/applying to me.

FYI I am pro Salatin. I haven't done research to see how 'perfect' his operation is, but as another poster said, he is doing some great things and at least moving very much in the right direction.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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In addition to "politics" and "religion", I think "food dogma" is an equally divisive issue out there.

People all over the world have different food preferences, practices, and preparation styles that serve them best. For traditional peoples, these are based on the climate and customs which are their heritage. For those of us in the "global market", we may have a broader palate and more choices. However, across the board Big Ag/chem fertilizers have depleted nutrients in foods across the spectrum - plant and animal.

So I say, "Kudos to Salatin" and the rest of the folks making a difference in the quality and nutrition of the foods that suit their own preferences. Their experiments stand as a testament to a "different way" at the VERY least.
 
Johnny Niamert
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I don't eat corn, wheat, or soy. I'm gonna be pretty hungry.

Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:In addition to "politics" and "religion", I think "food dogma" is an equally divisive issue out there.


I usually stay away from politics, religion, and health issues. I would include food in health issues.

A lot of people, myself included, can sometimes take health advice as a personal attack.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Johnny Niamert wrote:A lot of people, myself included, can sometimes take health advice as a personal attack.


I'm with you there, Johnny!
 
David Livingston
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After this nice taster I am looking forward to seeing the whole thing . I think the most important was the idea of community . Its a bit like an AMAP system we have here in France where thare is actually a shortage of farmers to supply people who want to form an AMAP . A Permie AMAP would be really cool
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/10/france-farming-organic-vegetable-boxes

David
 
J D Horn
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Hey Ce Rice sorry for the confusion my comment was in agreement with you. All calories are not the same - the human body utilizes ("burns") animal fat and protein calories in substantially different ways than grain (most carb/sugar) calories.
 
wayne stephen
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The grain input into Salatins ' system is not intended to count solely towards meat production . There is energy conversion to work units that saves corn from conversion to biofuel . Food animals doing the work of machinery . Especially with the pigs . They are used to seals ponds and dams , maintain woodlots , convert woodlot to pasture . He hides corn under the winter bedding to entice pigs to turn compost . You could also view the poultry operation as integral to the beef operation . The corn fed to the chickens stays in the cycle ending up as beef and should be accounted for to that end . Work units from poultry as fertilizer , pest control , manure spreaders also saves petro/bio fuels . I'd say that the grain input is used much more efficiently than just viewing it in terms of calorie to meat conversion . In Salatins book " Pastured Poultry Profits " he openly and honestly recognizes this need for grain input as something to be improved upon . I hope this documentary inspires more people to not only support this kind of farming but to get out and do it themselves . Go create a system with the yield and philosophical integrity of Polyface. Make it so , Crew !
 
Kris schulenburg
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Just to emphasize Julia's point of carbon sequestration and soil building. Apparently the grazing habits of prehistoric animals is the reason North America has (had) such awesome top soil (think Alan Savory, Greg Judy.....). along with the reality that people are not going to stop eating meat no mater how "good" the argument. Responsible animal raising stacks many vital functions.
 
R Scott
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If you look at total calories in (food AND FUEL), Joel does a little better than most. If you look at $$ in, he does much better. He stacks the inputs--buying feed instead of fertilizer, hay instead of grass seed--and usually feeds multiple species with it. Using animals to do the work instead of machinery.

He could do it without buying supplemental feed, but he would either need 10 times the land or cut his output by 90%. You just can't run the density he does of all the species without some inputs. As long as someone else is willing to bust their butt to grow corn so cheap, why wouldn't you take advantage of it?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:People all over the world have different food preferences, practices, and preparation styles that serve them best. For traditional peoples, these are based on the climate and customs which are their heritage. For those of us in the "global market", we may have a broader palate and more choices. However, across the board Big Ag/chem fertilizers have depleted nutrients in foods across the spectrum - plant and animal.

So I say, "Kudos to Salatin" and the rest of the folks making a difference in the quality and nutrition of the foods that suit their own preferences. Their experiments stand as a testament to a "different way" at the VERY least.


To my point above, I just found out that renown Ethnobotanist (and McArthur Genius Award winner) - Gary Paul Nabhan - has written another book - this one called Food, Genes, and Culture - Eating Right for Your Origins



Here's the excerpt:

Vegan, low fat, low carb, slow carb: Every diet seems to promise a one-size-fits-all solution to health. But they ignore the diversity of human genes and how they interact with what we eat.

In Food, Genes, and Culture, renowned ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan shows why the perfect diet for one person could be disastrous for another. If your ancestors were herders in Northern Europe, milk might well provide you with important nutrients, whereas if you’re Native American, you have a higher likelihood of lactose intolerance. If your roots lie in the Greek islands, the acclaimed Mediterranean diet might save your heart; if not, all that olive oil could just give you stomach cramps.

Nabhan traces food traditions around the world, from Bali to Mexico, uncovering the links between ancestry and individual responses to food. The implications go well beyond personal taste. Today’s widespread mismatch between diet and genes is leading to serious health conditions, including a dramatic growth over the last 50 years in auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.

Readers will not only learn why diabetes is running rampant among indigenous peoples and heart disease has risen among those of northern European descent, but may find the path to their own perfect diet.


Gary Nabhan is one of the most important food writers we have in this country. In this eloquent and fascinating book, he shows us how our food and culture are so deeply rooted in our land and agriculture. - Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse



This exploration of the coevolution of communities and their native foods couldn’t be more timely…Mixing hard science with personal anecdotes, Nabhan convincingly argues that health comes from a genetically appropriate diet inextricably entwined with a healthy land and culture. – Publishers Weekly

 
mick mclaughlin
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The original post quoted an Adam Merberg blog, dedicated to hatin on Michael Pollan. Basically because the author is a vegan, and Pollan promotes eating healthy consumption of meat.

What Vegans just can't quite get around is that we are omnivores, and heck, meat is tasty.

Numbers is cal berkley, don't equate to the real world. Maybe eating meat doesn't make mathematical sense, but really humans don't. either.
 
Ann Torrence
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I don't get the OP's point. Is it:
1) raising animals for food is caloricly inefficient in all systems?
2) Salatin is running an unsustainable operation because he imports grain?
3) that Salatin is pretending to be something other than the Joelness of Joel?

1) duh. Veg to fat & protein conversion costs calories. So does walking, sleeping, staying warm and generally being a cow or pig.
2) not enough data. Is his soil better? He says yes. Is he buying grain from sustainable ag? Dunno are his practices better than my local feedlot. Oh yeah.
3) Joel isn't responsible for hero worship. I can't think of anyone who has been a better practitioner of ag transparency

Once I spent enough time in brown bear and wolf territory to come to grips with the fact that I am food, I stopped feeling guilty about being an omnivore.
I think it is a dangerous worldview that differentiates humanness from animalness to the point that we disconnect from our dietary origins.
We express our humanness by giving the animal a good life and death with gratitude, not by anthropomorphizing the pigness out of the pig.
 
Terri Matthews
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Standard agriculture says that it takes 6 pounds of commercial feed in a well-run operation to produce 1 pound of gain in a pig. It takes a fair amount of energy to grow a pig to 250 pounds!

Joel Salatin has found a way to reduce the feed inputs, but excepting for his "Salad bar beef" I had never heard that he had eliminated the grain, not has he TRIED to eliminate the grain as near as I can tell! Instead he appears to be raising animals in a method that is more natural to them.

Critters have always eaten grass seeds, by the way. And, grain is just grass seeds that have been increased in size due to selective breeding. Watch a chicken in an overgrown patch of grass for a bit: they will neatly nip off every bit of grass seed!

OK, the gent's system uses more calories than a meat - free diet, but then any animal will do that. No bird or animal will ever store more calories than it consumes. A grass plant can do it because it uses and stores energy from the sun but an animal must consume it. A cow eats grass that we do not eat, but it eats more calories in that grass than it will store. That is simply the way that all animals are!

I am an omnivore. I have no philisophical quarrel with Vegans though I do not agree with them. A big fish eats little fish and I eat fish as well. A high grain diet sets off my type 2 diabetes and a diet that is moderate in meat does not! I have no more shame when I consume a fish than the big fish do: it is what I do to survive and thrive. I eat the fish, today I ate the leftover turkey, and tomorrow I may eat something else. But, when dealing with an animal or a bird or a fish there will always be more calories consumed than stored.

I never heard that Joel Salatin ever claimed to be a permaculturist, by the way! He calls himself a farmer.

And, a Vegan eats what they think is right and correct, but then so do I.
 
Ce Rice
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WOW!!

just listened to Salatin's "Folks, this aint normal"

it is awesome. I highly recommend for everyone either in print or in audio book form!

it answers some of the objections brought up earlier in this thread
 
wayne stephen
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Actually Joel has said he is a permaculturist - in a way . I can't find the quote right now . He was talking about recieving criticism from permaculture people about his methods and I possibly misquote - " But isn't that what I do ?" {Permaculture}.
 
S Haze
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While I'm hesitant to get involved with a energy in vs. energy out discussion I would like to add something. In addition to producing meat, improved soil, and the like I suspect that Polyface farm supports one or more families economically even after taking away income from books and speaking. This is not at all insignificant!

I wonder how much energy is expended for the average white collar or blue collar job to generate enough income for the typical american to live off of. This whole idea gets very subjective very quickly so it's probably a pointless endeavor but one could consider driving to work, the energy in raw materials and supplies needed, and whether a job is really critical or not. Would it exist if the labor force was smaller?

I'm going to stop before I give myself a headache. While energy ratios can be a useful tool for determining how silly any human activity really is, analyzing any single part of a complex system, or system of systems.. too much, separate from the whole, gets you nowhere. Fukuoka's writing (and doodling) explains this much better than I can.
 
Benett Freeman
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Surely the real question is not calories in vs. calories out, but 'are those calories out enough to support the people that do the neceesary labour to assist nature making those calories?'

From what I've been able to glean so far, it doesn't look like many people at all are growing close to all their food, and I think that's a shame, since it can blatantly be done.

Some people on another thread were saying that Mr. Salatin had become too distracted by his fame?
 
Peter Ellis
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Benett Freeman wrote:Surely the real question is not calories in vs. calories out, but 'are those calories out enough to support the people that do the neceesary labour to assist nature making those calories?'

From what I've been able to glean so far, it doesn't look like many people at all are growing close to all their food, and I think that's a shame, since it can blatantly be done.

Some people on another thread were saying that Mr. Salatin had become too distracted by his fame?


I think that last might be rephrased as Joel being distracted by all of the demands on his time from those who want to know how he does it.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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