Joel Salatin - adapting Polyface farming method for Australian conditions

by Liz Beavis

When Joel Salatin came to Queensland...

In August 2011 Pete and I left Nanango early headed for Beerwah (Sunshine Coast) to attend a workshop with Joel Salatin of Polyface farm, he's a written a few books too. I didn'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 reviewed here. When I heard about the workshop Pete 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.


What is different about Polyface Farm?

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 hay. 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/hay 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).

How will this method work in Australia?

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 his system is a great example of systems thinking.

What can we do differently?

Since the workshop, we have been thinking about how to apply what we learnt about Polyface Farm to our little farm (Eight Acres). 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 eight 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?


  • Chel

    I have heard mention of him over the years, Chris. I hope it isn’t too dry at your place as the fires are dreadful . We have even had a couple not far from here.

  • Katrina Veness

    I have based my 5 acher farm of polyface. Check out Taranaki farm in victoria run by Ben Fallon menroried by Joel.
    I have also leant alot from Stewart Andrews natural sequence farming at Forage Farm.
    Love following your journey.

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