by Gabrielle PriorThis is one of the catch phrases I will probably remember from a seminar I went to on 8th August. I was lucky enough to spend the whole day listening to and learning from Joel Salatin from Polyface farms in the US. What an inspiring day, and just what I needed in the middle of winter to get revved up to do “better” in the garden and with the land next year. Are you with me seemed to be a favourite phrase to make sure we were all keeping up with where he was heading… as he often headed off on many tangents before tying them all together for the “aha” moment.
My head is still buzzing with everything I saw and heard, but in particular I was really inspired by the way they used and re-used everything, and how they stacked and layered animals on the farm to reduce pathogens, and make the most of every input and output they have. I learned a lot about soils too, and making the most of any microclimates you have around.
Joel has a particularly pragmatic approach to farming in my view – he declares himself a capitalist (among other things) and made no apologies for wanting to make money from his farming, and get the best return from any investments he makes in infrastructure. Another phrase that made me laugh in this respect was “It’s easier to pick a man’s pocket when you’re hugging him” – used when illustrating the point that he doens’t mind if the “dot-com boomers” come in and buy their “land yachts” as he called them and then want to buy chickens – he’s happy to raise and sell them to them.
What is refreshing for me though is that none of this capitalism comes at the cost of animals – all the animals get to express their innate traits, and more than once he referred to them as co-labourers – using pigs to plough and help regenerate pastureland as well as aerating compost, rabbits and chickens and turkeys as lawnmowers etc. It is a highly managed system – cows are moved daily – but just looking at the quality of his grasslands (which were the worst farmlands around 50 years ago), and the fast regeneration once animals are moved, it clearly works. His farm also generates enough income to employ 1 person per 25 acres. I suspect many farmers would be pretty happy with that kind of return. Even more inspiring is all of this he’s done in a climate that has more extreme temperatures then I have here (+40 to -20), and less average rainfall.
Of course there was a lot more in the day’s talks and Q&A sessions, like
- all about herbivores (well, he is a cow man!)
- how to beat the “food police”
- how to develop an enterprise that’s easy to scale up and scale down
- how to get into farming with no capital and no debt / raising the next generation of farmers
- the importance of diversity in creating a stable ecosystem
- a very entertaining introduction about how we all feel we’re worse of than everyone else / how it “won’t work for me”
I was, however most inspired by his obvious enthusiasm and passion – particularly as he had been in Australia for 7 days and this was his 6th seminar. However it certainly didn’t show – there was no sense that he was jaded / tired or just rattling off “the same old story”. He was lively, witty, funny, engaging and passionate. And not a blind passion either, but an informed passion, as he clearly reads widely and is able to draw on many sources for information. He’d definitely make the guest list of my fantasy dinner party, and I really hope I have the chance to see him again next time he comes out. If I was 20 years younger I’d be tempted to try and get an internship on the farm, just for the experience! I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said, and I’m still thinking about some things, but I can’t argue that he is the most morally/ethically grounded capitalist I’ve ever come across , and I guess that was the real core appeal for me about him. His system is on that satisfies me on both an ethical and a ‘real world’ level.
If you’re interested in learning more about his methods you can visit the website, and there are some clips on YouTube – and I also recommend another blog I read – Throwback at Trapper Creek, where you can read about and see many of his ideas in action – not to mention some very fine recipes for pies and muffins!
By Charlie Robinson
For Fay and I, becoming as self-sufficient as possible has always been our objective. In terms of growing our own vegetables we have fed ourselves for the majority of each year for the last twenty years.
We’ve always kept chickens and managed to supply ourselves, and our friends and neighbours, with fresh eggs for a similar period. However, we have consistently baulked at the thought of killing anything to provide a sustainable supply of animal protein. We have preferred to let “someone else” process our meat for us. All of our previous chickens, even the roosters, have died of old age well after their productive lives were over. We even kept a sheep that lived for about fifteen years.
The knowledge and skills associated with meat processing were commonplace in my parent’s generation, but over the last forty or so years, the emergence of supermarkets has superseded these fundamental tools.
We can expect the world’s stocks of oil to diminish rapidly in the next decade and, with oil’s demise, the availability of many of the foods we take for granted from the supermarket shelves. Hence the need to revert to the knowledge of our ancestors.
Chickens are a wonderful resource for anyone – witnessing their daily routines, both singularly and collectively, is a source of great entertainment; six hens can provide enough eggs for most households from Spring until Autumn; they can dispose of most food waste; and they can clean up pests from around your orchard.
If you have a rooster, you will invariably get chickens – some of whom will also be roosters. Too many roosters will fight amongst each other and molest the other hens continually. A cull is required, in which you can transform a problem into a solution (free meat). I don’t think killing animals is a job for amateurs, so we called upon a chicken-breeding relative to provide us with the necessary expertise. Once having caught the condemned birds, each rooster was beheaded with a sharp tomahawk. This task wasn’t as problematic as I anticipated but may be initially confronting to some people.
The carcasses were then immersed in hot water. We had an eighteen litre cast iron pot for this purpose which we heated on the cast iron stove for about three hours. This provided enough hot water to process five birds. After immersion, the feathers were removed very easily and I was surprised that this task could be completed so quickly.
Removing the bird’s innards was challenging and you need a very sharp knife to make the necessary cuts and incisions. The birds feet were first severed by cutting at the knee joint. By careful slicing around the vent, the innards could be removed but it took longer than we thought and required a deal of physical effort – our trainers made it look easy so it’s really only a matter of practice and experience. The feet were then cleaned and the outer skin and toenails removed. Apparently chook’s feet are a delicacy and I’ll report back on our verdict. The crop was then dissected, all the sand and little stones removed, and then peeled – the crop can be diced and used in soups and stews. Once everything was removed, the carcasses were thoroughly washed in cold water and stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours and then into the freezer.
The total time taken to process five birds was approximately one hour and will be much quicker with greater expertise. The learning experience was highly significant for us in our quest for self-sufficiency and we will soon be turning our attentions to another likely food source, the rabbit.