Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recent trip to Polyface farms

I recently visited Polyface Farms in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. For those not familiar with the farm, run by Joel Salatin, I suggest the book Omnivore's Dilemma, which gives a great description of it.

What makes Polyface so interesting is the complete disregard for modern industrial farming practices. Joel makes a big deal about the moral aspects of his farming, and I have to say that, after seeing it myself, I have to agree. If I ate meat, I would only eat meat from Polyface. What makes the place so amazing is the symbiosis between the land and the animals.

That of course does not make it perfect. In fact, my visit has only confirmed my fears that Polyface, despite the claims of Joel, is not a sustainable or scalable model. Beyond the problem that the Shenandoah Valley is a very unique and amazing place to farm, the method is not as clean as many would like to believe. What follows are some photos and notes from the tour.


The eggs are laid by hens in the "egg mobile", who are totally free to move around.

Here we see Joel moving the broiler cages. All of the chickens feed off the land with a supplemental protein feed mix. Moving the cage ensures that the animals are picking up fresh bugs, etc. from the ground, as well as interacting with the land in a more natural way than factory farmed chickens. There's no wasted time or infrastructure from scooping chicken waste.

While its great that the birds have actual contact with grass, it's not sustainable. Polyface does not raise the birds in winter, and so must buy eggs from other farms to replenish their stock each year. Each chicken on the farm was thus the child of a factory raised bird. Without a (very) small scale home farm, there's no way to keep the chickens 365 days a year like this.

So, buying Polyface chickens is best for the birds on Polyface farms, but it still means a factory life, and the promotion of a factory life, for other birds.


Here we see Joel with his prized cattle. These are 100% grass fed for their entire lives. From watching them slowly move across the land, its not a bad life either.

Like all of the animals on Polyface, the cattle are a natural part of the land, not something that simply extracts from it, but also adding back. There are though at least three major problems with this system of raising animals.

First, as I have previously mentioned, there is the problem of land needed to raise cattle. In a factory farm, cows live for 400 days, yield 300 kgs of beef and requires 20.9 square meters of land per kg of beef. That's about 1.5 acres per cow per 400 days.

According to Joel (from the best of three answers I got about the raising of the animals), the land needs for the cattle on Polyface is 400 cow days per acre. The problem is that time to slaughter on Polyface takes 20-29 months. That's twice the lifespan of a factory cow, and so they take 33% more land. Pastoral cattle though normally produce about half the meat of a factory farm cattle, which makes this even worse. I don't know the final weight of the animal at Polyface, but this means a pound of Polyface beef takes at least 33% to as much as 167% as much land to produce. Given we are already using a lot of land to produce the meat people are already eating, this would not be a sustainable increase.

Second, in conjunction with the land needs, and along with the added costs of 100% grass farming, there is the price. A pound of beef at Polyface starts at $4.25 for ground beef and goes up from there. Average ground beef in the U.S. is about $2.50, going as low as $1.00.

The benefit of this is that Polyface beef is probably priced much closer to the real social price of beef, so I have no problem with the price. Scaling up of such a program, which Joel thinks is feasible, means that the days of $1 burgers at McDonalds would be gone. Again, fine with me, but there is no way Americans will be able to afford the amount of beef they eat now.

Finally, there is the environmental impact of the cows. I have gotten some letters from grass farmers in California and have responded to some concerns in the latest Scientific American letters section. The short of it is that pastoral cows are in fact still a major source of greenhouse gases, and they do not solve environmental issues.

One interesting note from Joel on the tour was his reference to the environmental benefits of grass farming. Specifically, to Carbon Farmers of America. This is where I must point out the disappointing part of Joel's rhetorical technique: his hatred of science, and (despite this) his dealing in absolutes.

During the tour, Joel made the claim that grass farming can sequester all of the carbon mankind is producing. This makes his farming method something of a panacea for the environment. Sadly, there is no evidence that sequestration works, or that grass farming can solve so much. The science is weak, and the numbers don't add up.

In Conclusion

Despite my above critiques, I stand by the farming methods of Polyface farms, but not for the reasons Joel and other grass farmers would have us believe. 300 million Americans cannot each eat 92 pounds of beef a year and get it from environmentally or morally friendly sources. Polyface is the only future of farming that has any moral grounding, and it means everyone eats a lot less meat.


Sagar Shah said...

I'm not convinced that even this farm has much moral grounding. Any form of farming which involves using animals for food, entertainment or clothing ultimately ends up in some form of moral problem.

I have been reading more and more by Gary Francione ( and am getting increasingly convinced that any ownership of animals (i.e. violating their right not to be owned) is morally apprehensible.

There have been some moves in the UK (where I am from) with live-stock free organic farming. - which seems better than most.

Unfortunately - I don't think the moral issue is going to sway most of the Western World - price is proabably the influential thing (the health consequences of high red meat / fat intake doesn't seem to put off most people)- and in that light it is pretty difficult to think of a solution, that involves rearing animals but doesn't involve battery farmed animals.

I think the best possible solution to the farming problem is to develop sufficiently tasty/substitutable plant based alterantives to meat that are sufficiently satisfactory and affordable for most non-vegetarian Westerners - that most will be willing to eat them most of the year, and only indulge in real meat as a premium. There have been some developments with companies such as Next Generation Gourmet - whose products many non-vegetarians have preferred to the meat-based alternative in blind taste tests.

In practical terms - I think that this may be difficult to achieve - at least for white meat. Battery (broiler) chickens are incredibly efficient animals from a economic perspective. They may consume 1.6-2kg of food, and have a weight of 1kg at the end of it - and it will be pretty hard to develop a plant based alternative that efficient.

Plant based alternatives to red meat may be a much more affordable and viable solution.

Tim said...

I think you make some good points. Polyface is clearly a better model than anything in factory farming. However, you touched on one of the two ways that our farming values differ from theirs, and that is in raising all of our own animals.

As you said, Polyface buys mail-order chicks. It also buys weaner pigs, choosing not to breed them, as well as turkey poults and many cows from sale barns. To me, that is not sustainable, and it's slightly hypocritical to say, as Joel does, that it's not sustainable to FedEx a steak, but it is sustainable to mail day old chicks. We've decided to breed every animal on the farm and produce only what we can raise. That means dealing with pigs birthing naturally in the woods, incubating eggs, etc.

The second difference in our model is an emphasis on rare/heritage breeds. If you are REALLY serous about mimicking nature, as we are, you need breeds that can thrive in a natural setting. Sorry, that isn't the "pink pig" or the Cornish X chicken. It's slow growing, heritage breeds such as Ossabaw pigs, Poulet Rouge chickens and Bourbon Red turkeys. While they grow more slowly, they breed well naturally, convert forage to protein and taste spectacular.

Finally, I understand your point about perhaps not being able to feed the nation with this model. I don't agree with you. We simply need more farmers, and prices need to reflect the REAL cost of food production (read: kill subsidies). If we can encourage more people to farm the way we do and more people to eat locally, we'll all be better for it.

Tim Young
Nature's Harmony Farm, Elberton, GA

Mandatory Reporting said...

I think in your analysis of the beef farming you are missing one of the main benefits of polyfarms rotation system. Mainly that the beef are in turn providing protein for the chickens through fly larvae in the manure.

I wonder how the math works out when you add in the chicken feed.

Eden said...

I'm impressed w/the objectivity of your report. Food and morals don't add up; so it should be left out of the equation (especially when we think about how most of the people of the world are thinking about their 1 meal a day). But you touched on the real issue w/ "natural farming" and it just doesnt add up. With the advent of industrial farming along with globalization, and population growth... its very difficult to rationalize this type of farm. Even bio-farms which are supposed to be carbon-free and completely natural are hard pressed to meet this reality (of supply meeting demand). I'm glad you touched on this, because most people don't.

Sebastian said...

Where can I buy Polyface Farm meats?

Solutions: NPO said...

I really appreciate your insights, Nathan. I love reading 'other' thoughts and idea's on issues in order to round out my own stand on things.
Several things about your post stood out to me though.
You seem to come from a perspective that people should either be vegetarians or eat significantly less meat than they presently do.
I have to say, that although I myself have been 'ecologically aware' since childhood, and have served on numerous 'green' committee's, I worry when my brethren push their way of thinking on others. To say it would be good to get rid of McDonald's $1.00 burgers or experience meat prices so high they would be forced to reduce their meat intake signifies an "I know what's best for everyone else" attitude.
This reminds me of fundamental religious and American Evangelicals specifically - "there's only One Way and it's OURS."
What I have personally learned from my own journey with health issues and learning to eat in a way that keeps my body whole is to remove all: dairy, sugar, wheat and other grains, (humans weren't made to digest these properly),and corn products - especially high fructose corn syrup.
This works for me. After a lot of scientific study, I learned my asthma and type-2 diabetes (not weight related - most probably from all the steroids for the asthma) were made much worse by the above products, most of which create inflammation in the body.
My point is, although this eating plan works for me - fresh fruit, vegetables and meat - it will probably never be the choice of most people. That's okay. I'm only answerable to myself. Adding judgment to others choices is uncool and doesn't allow people to evolve their thinking in their own way and time.
There is no perfect plan out there for anything. Polyface Farms offers a model that family units CAN follow. Imagine communties where gardening and animal/meat raising were shared. It could help heal the land and human bodies at the same time!
Again, I appreciate your thoughts, but encourage you to remember that freedom of choice is the greatest gift of all and when people come across as the experts of what is best for everyone else, the backlash of refusal to even look at change is great.

Daniel said...

You disputed many of Polyface Farms claims of sustainability. You said Joel "rejected science" or that the "math doesn't add up" but you offered now numbers or science to back up your claims. From what I know about Polyface farms their model is sustainable if you consume a more moderate amount of meat. The way you talked about their inefficiency it almost seemed as if you were promoting factory farming or feed lots.

Jim said...

One of the reason we eat so much and get so fat as a nation is all the supplements that are added to animal feeds. These supplements make livestock hungry so that they will eat more and grow to market size faster. You eat these supplements when you eat feedlot/factory meats, as well as being exposed to all kinds of weird stuff when you eat chemically fertilized farm produce. It should be obvious to all that our present food system tends to make people overeat and gain weight often to the point of being grossly obese.

It doesn't increase the cost of feeding a person either in cash or in acreage if the person ends up eating significantly less and having better health to boot. Please show me how the overweight people of Huntington WVa benefit economically from eating as much as they do. It is cheap low quality food that helps lock them in their unhealthy poverty.

Bettybadass said...

I agree with the others in my appreciation for this thought provoking article. It's good to remain a critical thinker, especially when feeling enamoured with a person, method, or a philosophy. But after considering carefully your criticisms, I find there is an important factor you may not have considered. That factor is the grass.

In a CAFO, the cows take far less land, but what they take they destroy, and the concentration of cattle creates pollution out their wazzus. Worse, they are fed grain from crops that were grown with chemical fertilizers requiring huge amounts of fossil fuels in their production. In this system you have a carbon problem in one end and out the other.

But the land you speak of, that Joel's cows are taking so much of, is full of CO2 hungry grass. The grass cleans the air while feeding the cows and the cows in turn, feed the grass right back, as well as the chickens.

It ends up being at least a carbon neutral situation, where cows are pastured and managed to keep the grass healthy and vibrant, and cows properly managed in their grazing help this happen.

I don't mean to sound obvious, but trees and forests aren't the only flora responsible for keeping the air clean.

And conversly, animals raised for food aren't the only big dinner table polluters. Veggies raised in monoculture pollute as well.

Both plants and animals, whether raised for our food, or in their natural environment, feed eachother with what would otherwise become wasteful pollutants.

Nickname unavailable said...

You raise a concern about the amount of land that grass-fed beef requires, as if this is neccesarily bad. In the West we call it "protecting open space". There is a lot of land out there that is grazed by cattle, and the real problem in my eyes is that too much of it is getting converted to higher-intensity land uses like irrigated, fertilized cropland, or paved suburbs with cars, lawns, dry cleaners, mechanics, ... I'd like to see the carbon impact of an acre of grassland compared to the acre you or I live on.

Mathis said...

@Sagar Shah: Not everyone shares your view that eating animals is morally wrong, lions and sharks included in that list. The impressive thing about Polyface is the respect they have for their animals in comparison to the American (and English for that matter) food industry. To say that "any form of farming which involves using animals for food...ultimately ends up in some sort of moral problem" is a judgment position, that frankly, you don't have the right to least not in this country.

ellinor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ellinor said...

Bettybadass, the main way that cattle is affecting the "air" is not through the CO2, but through the methane they emit. Looking at theCO2 balance alone makes no sense.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Polyface, I'm a student of agroecology in Sweden and I've long been cautiously impressed by it, but am becoming increasingly skeptical. Interesting ideas, nonetheless.

Chris said...

This post, while honest, is off-base. Sure, the numbers are not precise for carbon sequestration in managed grasslands...*yet*. Of course, there will be variability from operation to operation. Yet, the basic fact of sequestration is well-known- such eminent grassland scientists as David Tilman have started putting numbers to it. And guess what? It adds up.

There are many documented cases now, with the verification of soil scientists, of grazing systems sequestering carbon in large amounts: *READ* larger than the amount of CO2 equivalents put out by the cows.

Furthermore, the agricultural utility and general biodiversity of grazing systems is superior to other land uses, including grain and vegetable agriculture. The amount of land required to grow grain to feed animals is also neglected by the author here.

In short, honest reflection but totally off-base conclusions. Grass-farming *is* a moral good.

fw said...

GOod review. You might also appreciate this one:

As for the view of at least one poster here that critiquing domestic animal centric food systems like Polyface is 'uncool' and simply 'judgemental'...don't be daunted!
The politics of food is EVERY body's business on our finite planet, and thoughtful critiques like yours are absolutely critical.

Keep up the good work!

- a healthy vegan for over 20 years, and stock-free growing advocate

Sara said...

I am currently reading Joel Salatins book "You Can Farm" and was curious as to what critisism is out there, that is how I came accross this blog post. You make some points, although, I think if you read more of his material that seems to reveal his "heart" I think you would find that you focused on the wrong things... the sustainability that his focus is, is the land and community, not necessarily the birds. He states upfront, he is in it for a profit and wants to teach others to be sucessful at living well being a farmer. (Why should the people we rely on to feed us be treated as poorly as the animals they raise!? How is that right or "sustainable" for a community?)
As for the price of meat or the ability for americans to "afford" to live without the $1 hamburger option... that is just rediclous. Most americans are over weight, over indulged in their "entertainment" and chose to spend there money on things that do absolutely nothing (except maybe harm) for their health (mental and physical). If you can afford to throw your money away on a cable bill, a 6 pack of beer, or soda, or a car over $ can afford to eat meat that isn't going to aide in the countries debt paying for health insurance/aid. And if you can't afford these things... you really ought to be growing your own food to provide something healthy for a truly struggling family.
I agree it is not a perfect set up and ideally heritage breeds would be best, but the consumer needs to demand this. He wouldn't even be known (because he would be out of business) if he grew things that no one would buy.

Steve Romero said...

I would argue with your comments about Americans not being able to afford higher food prices. If food prices go up to reflect REAL FOOD VALUES, then we'd all be forced to give up stuff that doesn't really matter - cable TV, iPhones (no, you don't really need one), fancy vacations, dining out, designer jewelry, $50,000 autos, tattoos, piercings, fancy hairstyles, etc. It's time America wakes up to what's important in this world. I think higher food prices that would allow the support of small-scale sustainable farming would be a damn good start.

Graham said...

You remind me of my son - who also works(ed) for the World Bank.

When we all line up on Judgement Day (whoever happens to be in charge), I'd back Joel Salatin to have better prospects than most W Bankers.

I've listened to Salatin in a couple of seminars - and, as best I can tell, the man is what he says he is - and he has thought more deeply about issues than most practical people have time to.

If you want a more sophisticated moral argument about agricultural issues, I would suggest Wendell Berry. His critique of industrial agriculture is devastating - although I fear he also thinks multi-lateral agencies are a part of the problem.

Good wishes

jhilborn said...

I appreciate the alternative view of what's going on at Polyface, but you numbers don't seem to add up.

400 cow days does not equal the land needs of Joel's cattle. It means that an acre of his pasture can support 400 cows for one days grazing needs. If one cow lives for 870 days (approx. 29 months) that equals 2.175 acres. If only 600 days (approx. 20 months) that would be 1.5 acres, the exact same as the number given for factory cattle. Not to mention that this produces a superior product in every possible way.

Additionally, the pasture is not dedicated solely to cattle but is part of a larger system that incorporates chickens, turkeys, rabbits, etc. Such a system easily makes up for the more lean cattle produced, meaning that the calories produced per acre are greater than the factory cattle acres.

Also, methane production in pastured cattle is half that of a feedlot, not to mention the reduced emissions of CO2 from not having had to grow grain for feed.

Not considered at all is the fact that this system of farming produces more energy (as calories) than is used in the production.

I understand that this system is not perfect but it is a huge step in the right direction.

cmorodan said...

eu cred ca asa e bine

Cat said...

Only an uneducated, narrow viewed person would dare speak about Joel in a negative way. He represents a positive when almost everything in our farming and food system is a negative. Read some books, watch some food documentaries, visit a conventional farming's a sad state of affairs on so many levels. Joel is showing us a positive alternative is possible.

James said...

How much farming do you do with the World Bank Nathan?
I think from what I have seen since 2008 BANKS are growing problems and Joel is growing solutions!

Joel is a HERO!


James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

To Sagar, I do appreciate your passion for the animals, as I have said before and I will say again, 'once that chicken can balance my bank account, I will look at him differently'.....all fun aside, imagine all the mono cropping we have induced on the land to support veganism. All one has to do is watch Andrew Zimmerns Bizzare Foods and you will see the cultures that used the land the way mother nature intended in a real closed cycle. Everyone wins in that cycle and the land isn't ravage by Monsanto and mono cropping agriculture just so I can have a trough of kale.

all the best

Oemissions said...

sustainability is a more or less issue...
in the case of polyface, it;s a "much more sustainable than many farms"
the invigorating respect for wholesome agriculture and the wonderful appreciation for the source of our food makes the place a very positive experience
i was an organic grower of veggies for sometime in the late 70s and 80s
I calculated, after all the work, that I earned 50 cents an hour
but I loved being in the country and producing beautiful produce
I was also a vegetarian for many years but now in my old age I have loosened up
and will enjoy some organic chicken, turkey and even the occasional shepherd's pie
and i appreciate wild salmon and other "sustainable" fish
this world is very very populated now
i cringe at the wastefulness and the ignorance about our food and growers and workers
and I do think about the starving people in Africa when I prepare a meal
so i "steer" away from gluttony...
the fast food approach, it seems to me developed with the growth of automobile use
i see here in Canada
people pulling in to Tim Horton's for their morning dose of donuts and big coffees while idling away, mindlessly
and vans with families lined up at a MacDonald's or Wendy's or A&W for lunch, supper, snack
You want fries with that?
and what size of sugared drink?
when they pull in for gas they also fuel up on packaged snacks,etc
and the advertising industry and the oil and gas companies go:kaching!
yep, we need the Slow Food movement and the hundred mile diets and we need vegans to connect their eating habits to their other daily habits
I remember the early 70s when the macrobiotic parents wouldn;t let their kids have certain fruit and the raw foodies wouldn;t let their kids have crackers, and what do you think those kids tried to sneak or trade at school ?
I wakeup everyday with concern for the health of my planet and the health of my grandchildren and I adjust my actions to make my eco footprint as small as I can make it,
without being too fanatical about everything:this is the choice we all need to make: try to do the best we can because we care and know that we are trying
This week I toured a polyface type hundred acre farm on Mayne Island,BC with other Island Natural growers: wow! what a delight and ,OMG do they ever work, but they exude JOY!
This is part of growing and food production: happy workers! I don't think we see that in industrial agriculture.
We toured another farm, with no animals, wonderful crops (veggies) but soil amendments came from things, besides green manuring, like: rock phosphate, blood meal,etc: these things get shipped in from elsewhere,as does fish emulsion,seaweed fertilizer
yet I would say this too is quite sustainable: soil has to be built and maintained and micro organisms are considered vital, so, as i said in the beginning, sustainability is a more or less situation

TriplePlay said...

I firmly believe the Polyface model is sustainable and can be copied to feed the masses. Others have made good arguments as to mono-culture, CAFO's, and petroleum based inputs and distribution.

The demand for products (meat and veggie) from diversified farms like Polyface could feed cities and rural areas alike, provided there are folks who will take the time and do the work necessary to bring those products to market. When local producers begin direct selling to local consumers, free of middle-men, processors and government bureaucracy, the ability to make a good wage is there.

This model can also be copied in the poorer, impoverished areas of the world. Because infrastructure and distribution is not needed with this model, local communities in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere can provide their own regional meats, fruits, and vegetables. An African farmer does not need Monsanto GMO seed and ammonium nitrate. He needs a few ruminants, some chickens, and a piece of ground and the KNOWLEDGE of how to create a sustainable food system that is symbiotic in nature. Overlords and dictators thrive on being able to control the food supply, but if a community is producing it's own food security, then the power lays with them and not the militant leader standing on bags of GMO grain from the UN and World Bank.

The immorality of this issue is not one of animals or vegetables, but one of freedom. Freedom for producers to produce and sell directly to consumers and freedom for consumers to spend their food dollars in whatever way they see fit to provide for their family.

JustMe said...

One baby step at a time.

I think we are living in a world where everything has to be done fast and efficiently. It takes nature about a couple of billion of years in order to make us. :D

I think Joel put us on the right path, which is to ignore some of the wisdoms that are shoved down to our throat by corporations.

You did say that it takes 400 days for factory cows to mature and ready to be slaughtered. But at what cost? Did you considered the kind of food that the cows got? (Cow bones made into cattle feed is efficient, but wrong isn't it?) What kind of hormone injections that they get in order to get that big in that short amount of time.

A friend of mine worked in a pharmaceutical company. One time he was told to sell hormone injections to chickens. Normally it takes 3 months for a chicken to mature. They cut it down into 1 month. There was a correlation between the injection and osteoporosis to the chicken. Not to mention the high mortality of the chickens due to the imbalance of the chickens diet. He never eat factory produced chicken again in his life. (these are the chickens that are used in Mcd and kfc) you can assume that they're doing the same things to their cows

Think about this in the biggest scope you can imagine. Do not put dollars and numbers into it. There are so much more values we can get from something if we ignore the set of values that are given by our society.

Lover of Dogs and all things Natural said...

Sager Shah: If no one is farming animals (or owning them), most would be extinct. Also, why would you think eating meat is immoral? Do you also believe having a companion animal is morally wrong? I think you make a big leap to make that statement and make a huge judgement on a large scale.

You also state that there are health consequences of eating red meat or fats. Are you familiar with traditional diets and Weston A. Price research? You would be most enlightened to read actual research (not funded by the grain industry) on this subject.

I believe that there are some nuggets of goodness to learn from Polyface Farms. There is also room for improvement in all industries.

So, you are basically promoting highly processed frozen vegetarian food as a "healthy alternative" to high quality meats and fats? Sigh.

Unknown said...

"The amount of land required to grow grain to feed animals is also neglected by the author here. "

This statement is the most important cricism of this article. Food for the feedlots has to be grown with petrol, shipped to a processor with petrol, processed into "cattle feed" with fossil fuels, shipped to the feedlots with petrol, and delivered to the animals with petrol. Then the meat processing phase consumes all kinds more fossil fuels.

How much fossil fuel does Polyface farm use? The sustainability debate is endless since it is EXTREMELY difficult to be sustainable. It is effectively dividing us up and causing up to argue with eachother... which is good for industry. our attentions are not focused upon the real issues when we squabble among eachother.

Wasson6pack said...

I know it has been awhile since this was originally posted, but all the research I have done so far is that they currently farm (produce animals) year round. I know one of his past apprentices and will have to ask about not hatching their next flock. That would have a problem with his argument, but there are a few troubles with yours.

When you say that factory farms take less space per animal it is because you aren't counting the extra acres where the grain is grown. Joel grows food on the same land that the animals are kept on and the chickens are raised there to, sharing the space. Plus the waste stays in the same space as well. In factory farms they have to pump it offsite which should also be added to the 'space' calculations for factory farming.

As for the other poster and the morality issue, the bible says that God gave us the animals to have and take care of. If you choose not to eat them, fine, but don't call anyone immoral for doing so. That seems silly with all that is going on in the world.

I don't see why this model wouldn't work in other countries as long as they save some of their flock as breeding stock for the next cycle. We plan to implement this system on our farm.

Cassidy said...

We started a farm, specifically due to reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Joel's own "You Can Farm" book. None of his methods are necessarily 100% transferrable. He's got a LOT of land. I have 6 acres. I live in arid, high dessert Colorado, where I have minimal trees.

His broiler pens don't work in the high winds of Colorado, so our birds get shade huts and are 100% free range, using the huts for protection from wind, rain, sun, and a place to huddle together at night to stay warm.

No, Joel's methods don't work for everyone, and how lucky he is to have 400 acres of land handed down to him from his family. I have been there, too, and do appreciate what he's doing.

But there is ONE MAJOR thing the author missed - when he is making his comments on "sustainability" and chickens. Virtually NO ONE who raises meat birds, like Joel's, which are a breed called the "Cornish Rock Cross" breed their own chicks! You CAN'T! Those meat birds never grow old enough to lay eggs, AND they are a hybrid, meaning, they don't breed true. It takes years of developing a specific hen and a specific rooster, which are different breeds, to cross them to make the double breasted broiler that customers expect to eat. Any standard bird is much smaller, grows MUCH slower, and is single-breasted, having much less meat. Cornish Rock Crosses can not be successfully bred by trying to raise them to adulthood and then hatch their eggs, you would not get repeatable results from this.

No, that's not very sustainable, but it would take a huge shift of the consumer to go back to eating heritage breed chickens on their plates. It would not be worth Joel's time and energy to maintain the flock required to breed broilers, so that he could hatch all his own chicks.

Farming is not sustainable on a single farm. It takes a community to put in all the inputs and deal with the outputs of farming on his scale, and he's able to feed a LOT of people!

Jeff said...

Two comments
1) Imported fertility in the form of grain is not really important, this can largely be replaced by increasing the amount of legumes in the pasture
2) Grasslands are the best way to build soils and store carbon in the soil. Properly managed grazing animals actually can help stimulate soil carbon levels, by increasing root turnover. Several studies back this claim up, both on a physiological level (root exudates), a plant level (50% of the grass biomass is below ground), and a soil carbon level.
However, there is not enough grassland habitat to absorb ALL the extra carbon that Humans produce. A 1% increase in SOM in a decade or two is doable. This results in tons of Co2 stored per acre.

Grace Gierucki said...

The problem with cherry picking the stats about how much methane is being produced by cattle is that the current level of methane producing ungulates is lower now than it was 100+ years ago. When buffalo ranged free their numbers are estimated between 80-90 million and they are significantly larger than modern cattle (weight more, eat more, fart more). It is only in recent times that methane has become a problem indicating that something else is out of balance and is causing the accelerated climate change.

Nate Knapp said...

You have some facts off!

One that you really need to get right is factory farming keeps cows alive a lot longer than 13 months!
They don't butcher cows at 400 days old!

Grace Gierucki said...

As far as I know the absolute minimum would be about 16 months for anything that's not veal. I wish people would check basic facts before they write!

Eduardo TreviƱo said...

Good that the author of the blog went to the source to find out. I hope one day I might have the opportunity to visit one of those farms. But in most of your critiques you are assuming we won't change our eating habits. Which if we don't polyface farming won't be an option to supply enough food. But what if we changed? What if government subsidies to corn and soy change thus giving a real cost to cows grown at Cafos? What if the above were true and we could find ways to make polyface farming better? Finally regarding the science behind polyface farming, there has been an effort from one of Arizonas' universities to bring science and quantataive data to this type of farming.