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Joel Salatin's broiler operation

Polyface pens

I'm sure that most of you have heard about the broiler operation that is the primary subject of Pastured Poultry Profits.  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 Salatin processing chickensestimates 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.

Cornish CrossI 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 techniques.

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 pasturing system elsewhere.)

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 Poultry Profits for a step by step guide to making your dreams come true.

Our chicken waterer is perfect in tractors since it never spills on uneven ground.

This post is part of our Pastured Poultry Profits series.  Read all of the entries:

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This man has lots of wisdom that can be shared. I have ordered his book before I begin with this venture.
Comment by Nazir Seedat early Friday morning, February 20th, 2015

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