Friday, December 19, 2008

Question #1 (Thank you Tracy!)

Man have I been busy!!!

Sorry I haven't written anything in over a month.  I went home for Thanksgiving and when I got back it was right at the start of the last Polyface buying club delivery of the year and it was a BIG one.  The last delivery went out today.  Let me tell you, HUGE weight has been lifted.  Anyway... enough about me, on to the first question!!

Question #1

A couple weeks ago Tracy asked:

Well, from reading your blog and viewing your photos (both here and your other blog) I'm almost a little disappointed in the Polyface model. I mean, it seems like it has grown to be so huge now (in numbers of animals) that it has become just another 'industrial' model. Perhaps a better model, for sure, but still an industrial model. I afraid it will lose the mission he originally had for it, and lose the whole "family farm" type of atmosphere. Do you feel that way at all -- being there in person and able to see it at work?

Great question... here's my answer:

The Polyface model is definitely not anything close to an industrial model... not even close.  I'm guessing that you saw the pictures of the chickens in the hoop houses and thought... thats not right!  If that was the case let me explain my pictures.  Those were taken in early March when I came for my checkout/interview for becoming an apprentice on Polyface.  The chickens were still in the hoop houses because it was still too cold for them outside.  Polyface only keeps their chickens inside during the winter months and I must say that the chickens would much rather be inside the hoop house where it's warm than outside in the rain, snow, cold, wind, etc.  Once it warms up the birds go outside on fresh grass and are moved to fresh grass every couple days.

As far as the number of animals go, Polyface is growing, but Joel knows better than to increase the stocking rate beyond that of what the farm can handle.  We will only keep increasing animal numbers as we keep increasing the amount of land Polyface uses through leases.  Which brings me to the part about the farm having a "Family Farm Atmosphere."

Fear not... this is most definitely a farm with much family atmosphere.  Joel and Daniel work in tandem to keep things running.  I think its safe to say that Daniel is the Operations Manager where as Joel is the CEO.  Both of their wife's, Teresa and Sheri, are very involved with marketing, accounting, etc.  Not to mention their help on the farm and in the kitchen feeding the MANY mouths that need food.  They are the ultimate farmer of strong men and we are VERY glad to have them around taking care of us.  Without them... crash and burn.  The longer I'm here, the more I feel like part of the family.

Polyface has also extended their training from apprentices and interns out to families.  On one of Polyface's rental farms, Joel has enacted a former apprentice to train a couple to eventually take over operations.  Polyface has essential started planting families in farms with a great model to follow.  I don't see how you could get anymore "Family" than that of any farm.

So, have no fear about Polyface turning into a big industrial mess... It won't happen.  He is a little bit from the Polyface website:

Today the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis.  Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission:  to develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.

I hope this answers your question.  Thank you so much for asking!!

And remember... If anyone has a question about me, the farm, pluto... just ask in the comment box.  Thanks.


Tracy said...

Thanks so much for the answer, Grady! and for setting my mind at ease about that. After having read most of Joel's books, I was really hoping the fame and success of his own operation wouldn't outgrow itself. Nice to know he is keeping the mission in focus. :)

Tracy said...

Grady - have you thought about possibly loaning (or hiring) yourself out as a kind of "consultant" once you leave your time at Polyface and come back to the midwest? I mean, like you could come to my place, take a look at our operation, and give us new ideas, fresh eyes, on how we can incorporate some Polyface principals on our own farm.

Grady Phelan said...

I have thought about that and I think I would be open to do some consulting. It will mainly depend on my time, but maybe we could work something out. I really enjoy seeing new places and talking to people about farming (or anything), so consulting could definitely be in my future.

Benjamin said...

What if I had a question about which sport you would referee, if you were going to be a referee?

Howdy from AZ! =)

Tim said...

That's an interesting perspective about the chickens preferring to be indoors. We keep our chickens in eggmobiles all year, as well as raising them on pasture in the winter. Granted, we're in north Georgia, but it routinely is 10-15 degrees here, with highs in the 30's. By no means warm, and yet the chickens definitely prefer to be outdoors free-ranging.

I think Joel prefers them indoors due to the soil not metabolizing all the manure efficiently in the winter, in addition to not having cows to follow since they're fed hay indoors.

Regardless, Polyface, while it can no longer be considered a small, family farm, is FAR from industrial farming.

Tim Young
Nature's Harmony Farm

Grady Phelan said...

I must admit that my perspective was a little vague. The birds most certainly want to be outside during the warmer beautiful days (and sometimes find a way out of the hoop-house). I was speaking about days like last Saturday when it was -6 degrees (F) during morning chores. But you are right in saying that they prefer the outdoors most of the time.

One of the other problems is getting water to the birds when its below freezing. Inside the hoop-houses it can easily be 20 to 30 degrees warmer on a clear, sunny day. This allows for hydrants to run all day. It would be very time consuming to carry water to 6000 (3000 pullets that are not laying yet) birds. Winter eggmobiles were tried on Polyface and water was a big issue. (And that was when numbers were smaller) Cold weather also effect production and we need our production to stay up to service all of our restaurants. (Last week we sent 21 cases)

You are also most likely correct about the soil. But we do have cattle grazing at the moment. Actually most of the herd will graze until February 1st, so following the cows is an option at this point. Only the finishing steers and heifers are currently being fed hay.

Thanks for the comment.


I would be a hockey ref for sure!!

Tim said...


Good point...I've fixed quite a few broken pipes in the past couple of weeks. Fortunately, they say we're looking at 60 degrees this weekend, so I hope it warms up for several days.

I'm curious: how well do the hens lay this time of year, given the short days? With 3,000 layers, how many eggs would you get daily, and do you use artificial lighting?

Grady Phelan said...


Their production drops pretty dramatically during the winter. We do not use any kind of lighting so the short days are hard on the production.

Today we gathered about 80 dozen. We had some birds go through a molt so current production also reflects that stress. I know this summer it wasn't uncommon to gather 250 dozen daily, so as you can see production is way down.

As far as size of egg goes, we are gathering mostly large eggs (2 oz and above).

sticky burr said...

the problem is that they are industrial and/or industrial component. they take industrial breds and put them in a near natural environment the chickens come to mind but when i studied the farm there was another commercial bred also. they support unnatural chicken hatchery industrial farm. also the bought in feed. you think our great grand parents sent away to McChicken for 2000-5000 chicks? the point is we need to determine what is most important profits or farm and great natural food? we ship in chicks we ship in feed we ship in power we ship in much else.... these are all some of the things that killed the family farm off along with subsidies that industrial conglomerates are better able to work than the land

Grady Phelan said...

Hey Sticky Burr,

Not sure where you were headed with your question?? Can you clear it up for me?