As “wanna-be” homesteaders, we are blessed that we currently live just a few hours away from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. Joel is widely known for his successful beyond organic, grass-based farm as well as his ability to teach and mentor aspiring farmers. We are working our way through all of his books and have visited his farm three times (so far). Two of the visits were of the lunatic tour variety, where Joel or Daniel Salatin take groups on hayride tours to see and discuss the farm’s practices.
Here are some pictures of our tour-based visits and a small snapshot into Polyface Farms.
This is the “eggmobile”, which carries 500 Rhode Island Red chickens. The chickens move daily to fresh pasture where they follow 3 to 4 days behind the cow rotation. The chickens are nicknamed the “sanitation crew” because they dig through and spread out cow patties and eat the fly larvae. The fly larvae are at the perfect developmental stage to give maximum nutrition to the chickens. This cycle controls the fly population on the farm, as well as well as providing needed protein to the chickens. And the result of the cleanup crew is delicious, pastured eggs!
Salad Bar Beef
The cows or “salad bar beef” were a fun stop on the tour. The cows move daily to fresh pasture where they eat grass at its “juvenile” height, promoting healthy grass at maximum nutrition for the cattle. They are put in an area where they completely mow down the grass; if they are in too large an area the cows will only eat their favorite grasses and leave the rest, which does not provide maximum nutrition for them. By moving them daily, they sequester carbon and fertilize the ground, which builds soil.
Happy, Pastured Pork
The pigs were one of my favorite stops on the tour! In April, we were able to see them work the compost from the winter animal housing. In the housing, they dig for fermented corn and do all the work of getting the compost ready to spread. The pigs are happy! They use the plows on their noses to do what ordinarily would take a lot of time and work for the farmer. Amazingly, even though we were looking at ten feet of manure (and my son was running around in it!) there was no smell at all!
On our tour in June, we saw the pigs in the forest. They root for acorns and other food and disturb the landscape. This is very beneficial for the trees — the pigs eat insects around the base of the trees that would otherwise cause harm. It was neat to see the pigs so content and happy “at work” and doing yet another job that benefits the farm.
The Broilers / Chicken Tractors
The broilers (meat chickens) are moved daily in the lightweight chicken tractors. These shelters keep the chickens safe from predators while providing fresh air, sunlight, and fresh grass for the chickens. Because they are enclosed at eye level, the tractors even protect the chickens from raccoons who don’t realized they could climb on top of the tractors.
They are processed at 8 weeks old and are a favorite of the customers. I have to agree — we brought home some broilers and I’ve never had better pastured chicken!
You Should Visit!
If you are ever within a reasonable distance of Polyface Farms, I highly recommend a visit — especially a lunatic tour. Joel and Daniel graciously take time to answer questions throughout and after the tour; they are so encouraging. We left freshly inspired and better equipped for our own plans.
I mentioned we took two tours, and what we found was that each visit is completely different. There is always more to learn! The animals and enterprises change with the seasons. Also, different visitors ask different and helpful questions.
Of course, if you can't visit, Joel writes informative and entertaining books. 🙂
Have you visited Polyface Farms? What were the highlights of your tour? If you aren't able to visit, is there a favorite farm in YOUR area giving tours and sharing knowledge that you would recommend visiting?
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