I'm sure that most of
you have heard about the broiler operation that is the primary subject
However, as well-known as the Polyface Farm model is, I've had trouble
finding real data on the internet. So here's a quick summary of
the numerical side of Salatin's pasture operation --- if you're at all
interested in following his lead, I highly recommend that you track
down his book for more information.
Salatin's business model
is pretty simple, and probably looks good to farmers (accustomed to
making minimum wage), but not so hot to white collar workers.
Salatin's book walks you through raising 10,000 broilers during a busy
six months, netting $25,000. He estimates that each bird
takes about 5.5 minutes of caretaking while on pasture and another 3.5
minutes of butchering, which results in an hourly wage of $12 to $20
per hour (when the book was published in 1993 --- presumably more
now). Yes, that does mean you're working about 60 hours per week,
over a third of which is killing chickens, but you get the other half
of the year to recover. In addition to the time constraints,
you'll have to come up with $10,000 to $15,000 in startup costs (along
with 20 acres of pasture) to repeat Salatin's success.
The reason you can make
a moderate to good living raising pastured poultry is because keeping
the broilers on pasture results in a high quality meat you can't buy in
the grocery store. Salatin moves his chicken tractors daily (or
twice daily when the birds are big) to ensure that the flock is always
enjoying the "cream" of the pasture --- bugs and tender, young
grass. Quick movement also prevents disease buildup by keeping
the young chickens from sitting around in their own waste.
Salatin provides 1.3 to 2.4 square feet per bird, hitting the sweet
spot in which chickens aren't stressed by overcrowding and don't burn
off too many calories "running around". The result is a 20%
reduction in feed cost for broilers, and a feed
conversion rate of
2:1 (liveweight) or 3:1 (carcass weight). He sees 5 to 10%
mortality, which sounds like it's about par for the course for this
"race car" breed.
I think that those of us who
want to pick and choose pieces of Salatin's method to incorporate into
our own farms have to keep several things in mind. First of all,
Salatin has had no luck selling heirloom meat birds to the public, so
he has little information to share about non-Cornish
Cross broilers. (I'll write about his heirloom egg-laying
flock in another post.) Less sedentary heirloom broilers act very
different and will probably need at least slightly different management
The success of the
Polyface Farm broiler operation also stems in large part from the
diversity of the entire farm. In addition to raising chickens,
Salatin grazes beef cattle, which he sends through the pasture to
prepare the ground for the broilers. If you don't have access to
some ruminants, you'll need to mow the pastures to maintain grass at
the proper height for chickens, and you should expect your broilers to
get less nutrition from a pure grass pasture since you won't have the
bug-laden cow pies. (I've written about the ecology of a Salatin-style
All of that said,
Salatin clearly has a lot to teach anyone who's new to pasturing
poultry. And his method has turned hundreds of wannabe farmers
onto a business model that allows them to make a living on a small
family farm. If that sounds like you, check out Pastured
for a step by step guide to making your dreams come true.
chicken waterer is perfect
in tractors since it never spills on uneven ground.
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