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Joel Salatin - adapting Polyface farming method for Australian conditions

On Friday the 5th of August my husband and I left Nanango at 6:15am headed for Beerwah (Sunshine Coast) to attend a workshop with Joel Salatin of Polyface farm, he's a written a few books too. I didin't know much about Joel before we booked the workshop. I had heard of him because Emma has mentioned Polyface a few times in comments and he also wrote the forward to "The Raw Milk Revolution", which I read recently. When I heard about the workshop (from the South Burnett Permaculture Group) my husband and I checked out a few of his videos on Youtube and thought he seemed like a pretty good presenter, so it would be worth the effort to get there.

Joel Salatin at his farm
The workshop started at 9am, there were almost 200 people in the Beerwah community hall and Costa Georgiadis (of Costa's Garden Odyssey fame) was the MC. We hadn't realised that it would be such a big deal, Channel 7 news even turned up after lunch. The event was organised by a company called RegenAg, which organises similar workshops around Australia with various local and international experts (they have some other good ones coming up that I'd love to go to). The lunch was catered by a community food share organisation called Food Connect. All round it was a very well organised, interesting and enjoyable day. 

and again with a chicken :)

Joel showed a series of photos from his farm (Polyface - the farm of many faces) and used them to demonstrate and describe the farming methods that he uses. At Polyface, they farm beef cattle, pigs and chickens/turkeys. They have researched and tried to mimic natural processes to manage the animals without the need for fertilisers, chemical treatments or ploughing the fields. For the beef cattle they use a technique called "mob-stocking", where the cattle are kept in small areas using electric fences, and are moved daily, this allows them to eat most of the grass and trample any weeds that they don't eat. The chickens are kept in movable wagons and are moved onto the pasture after the cattle are finished, so that they can eat the insects/fly larvae in the manure and keep the cattle healthy. The cattle are kept in sheds in the winter, with deep mulch on the ground. They are fed hay during this time. Corn is scattered through the mulch. In spring, when the cattle return to their pastures, piglets are brought into the sheds to eat the corn and this is used to mix up the mulch and create compost, which is later spread on the pasture. When the pigs are big enough they are taken up to the mountain forests and moved through the forest using electric fences. This helps the forest to regenerate and reduces the fire-hazard (less vegetation at ground level). Wood from the forests is harvested and sold in the local area, branches are mulched and used for the floor of sheds. As you can see, the systems are interlinked and based on natural systems, with a the help of modern technology where appropriate (electric fences, tractors and poly-pipe to supply water).

Many in the audience had questions for Joel about how the system would work in Australia (e.g. what about rainforests? what about Australia not having any native hooved animals? etc).. Obviously Joel couldn't answer these questions, he only knows what works for him on his farm in the US. I think its up to us to now take his methods and adapt them to Australian conditions. The workshop was not so much about how to farm, but more how to think about farming in a different way to the conventional ideas of splitting the farm into monocutures, how to use natural systems and modern technology to our advantage. I think for some people the ideas were quite revolutionary, but for us we have seen some of these principles unintentionally in action at our friends' dairy farm. For example, they raise pigs on their excess milk and they move the dairy cows around to different pastures each day, so it wasn't totally weird for us to see how the systems on Polyface farm are interlinked. Its all about looking for synergies within the system and not letting anything go to waste.  Joel doesn't mention permaculture, but it all seems to be related.

Since the workshop, we have been thinking about how to apply this to our little farm. We need to adapt the principles to our scale and for our needs (more home produce than commercial production). We already have our chickens in movable cages, but we could do more to make sure that they follow the cattle (this means clearing our paddocks so that the chicken tractors can get through). We have already broken up our 8 acres into 4 smaller paddocks, but we can create smaller "cells" for the cattle using electric fences. We already compost some manure, but we could work harder to pick it up in winter instead of leaving it in the paddock to leach nutrients. We already mulch excess wood, but we could use it as deep litter first to add some extra fertiliser. We give excess milk to the dogs, but it would be great to get a couple of pigs to raise on the milk instead. We need to do more to ensure that we have winter grass available for the cattle so that we don't have to feed grain.

We already use movable chicken cages
We already compost some manure
We already mulch small trees
In some ways we are already doing more than Polyface, for example we hatch our own chickens and they buy theirs from a hatchery, which should help us to develop a line of chickens that is suited to our conditions. (OK I was hoping for more things on that list and I could only think of one!). My point is that there are many different ways to apply these principles and even if you only have a small garden, you can think about the links between garden and compost, adding in chickens or a worm farm to maximise the use of your scraps and create extra fertility. This is not just limited to big commercial farms, you just have to think about how it will work for you.

We hatch our own chicks (couldn't resist putting this photo in again!)


For those who missed out on the workshop, there are lots of videos on Youtube, which give you a pretty good idea of the things Joel talked about. He has also published a series of books. We bought the first two of them at the workshop and I'll let you know if we find them useful and then we might think about buying the others as well.

Have you read any of Joel's books or been to a workshop?  Are you using any of these methods on your farm or in your garden?

Getting started with homestead dairy
Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the report on the workshop. It sounds fascinating. I think you are right though - each person needs to work out what suits their farm and their lifestyle and go from there. Sometimes it's trial and error and other times it just clicks straight away. Workshops like Joel's just get the creative juices flowing.

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  2. Thanks for reporting back. I was wondering how it went and kept on checking here to see if you had posted about it yet.

    I'm glad it was an inspiring day. Cool too that you're already doing so many things to work with natural cycles on your land. You guys are pretty unique in your DIY-ness and get-up-and-go-ness. It's one of the things I enjoy so much about your blog.

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  3. Great report on the workshop. I wanted to attend but could not get the time off work so thanks for the info. I think you are right about Australia not being suited for the same type of farming as our land is so fragile and would not stand up to lot of hard hooved animals. We need to adapt the principles to suit our land.

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  4. Sounds like a great day. I read 'Everything I Want to do is Illegal' awhile back and thought it was great.

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  5. I have followed quite a bit on Polyface farm and am thrilled that someone/you got to attend a workshop in person and that you can relate to your own set up. Very interesting.

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  6. I attended his seminar in Jamberoo, and found it completely fascinating. I'd read some of his stuff and watched tons of online video and movies like Food Inc and Fresh, but there was still a lot to be gleaned from the presentation.

    Like you said, the main concept was to think in a more holistic way. He doesn't like buying specialised equipment (it's expensive and inflexible), keeps away from debt, works with natural cycles, supports the local economy, and stays at a scale that's manageable and able to be supported by his land.

    My head is now swimming with ideas for ways to bring some of those concepts down to my 1-acre scale!

    I was very heartened that we got both our Mayor and Deputy Mayor along to the workshop, as well as a lot of local farmers. There is hope!

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  7. Oh Liz, how fantastic that you could attend one of Joel's seminars. We never have, but have several of his books. He is both encouraging and inspiring; a must read for anyone interested in farming or homesteading.

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  8. Hi Liz, I am thinking about attending a workshop in Byron Bay and was wondering did you get a lot out of the workshop or do you think most of the information is covered in his books

    thanks
    Shantele

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    Replies
    1. I got a lot out of his talk because I had never read much about Joel Salatin before. I guess it depends if you need the inspiration and motivation of seeing him in person! I think he mentioned and showed photos of things that were not in the books, and you have the opportunity to ask questions, but most of it is not necessarily suited to our climate, so it needs to be adapted anyway. Try watching some of his videos on youtube to get an idea of how he presents. It was definitely an enjoyable day, but you need to weigh up other farm expenses! I hope that helps...

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  9. I think we can use so many of Joel's management principles in Australia. Our land is fragile yes but we can make it so much better using animals in the right way. I love the concept of layers of different enterprises to make small properties more productive and perhaps viable. I've read quite a few of his books and seen him speak on three different occasions. He's inspirational and thanks Liz you did a good review!

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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