“Great question. Obviously depends on where you are, but we are generating roughly one salary off of 25 acres.” Joel Salatin
“So if you are in a desert situation you would probably need more than that, but you probably wouldn’t be growing what we are growing. Maybe you would put more attention on vineyard and fruit trees. Obviously you would have to get your water straightened out, get your hydration going.
But here is the thing. Every single climate, every single area has an unfair advantage.
Take California. The market here is just insatiable, its an incredible market, and that is an unfair advantage. I am in a very conservative community that still thinks that the cheap food policy is the way to go. And when we started it was very difficult to get people to understand the externalized costs, the nutrient deficiencies of supermarket food. Here in California everybody is a foodie. I mean not everybody, obviously there is still McDonalds here, but a large part of the population endorses clean living, clean food, extreme sports, into wellness. And that is an incredible market unfair advantage for somebody that wants to start what we are doing here, where it was much more difficult for us.”
This is an excerpt from an interview that I did with Joel Salatin on May 22, 2013 in Big Bear Lake, CA. The transcript is verbatim.
How do you start farming?
Pastured poultry seems to be a very common route when starting out. Why?
1. There is a very low infrastructure cost.
2. A fast turn around.
You don’t need a lot of money to start up a small operation and you can get the cash flow going quickly. You can then cycle that cash flow back into the operation and grow it over time. Within a few cycles you should be able to cover your startup costs.
When I asked Joel Salatin this question here was his response:
“The first thing I would do is start up the chickens. That is a fast cash flow. I mean an 8 week turn around, that’s like a radish. And I would go visit all the naturopaths, the chiropractics, the wellness centers, all the quack medical community that get wellness and health, and develop a customer relationship. And then we’d be up and running.”
And your downside is pretty limited.
Any business is going to have risks, but with this type of operation you are controlling your risk pretty well. If your chickens die along the way, you lose some time but you don’t have that much money into them. If they survive and you can’t sell them, you can always eat them yourself. You won’t find many businesses out there where you can go cash flow positive in 6 months.
We talk more about this the Permaculture Voices Podcast – Episode 008.
In podcast 008, Paul Grieve of Primal Pastures, joins me to discuss his pastured poultry operation.
Paul saw the opportunity here in Southern California and started Primal Pastures with a broiler chicken operation. They have since expanded into grass fed lamb.
Takeaways from this episode:
- Don’t undervalue and underestimate the value of connecting with your customers.
- Stop focusing on the why it won’t work, and go out and actually do something.
- You can establish a profitable sustainable agriculture business with a small amount of land and a small amount of initial seed capital.
- Learn as you go and learn from your mistakes.
- Take advantage of direct marketing. Sell product and take payment online and deliver to drop points.
- Looking into leasing land instead of buying it. It is much cheaper, so it it opens up a lot of land that was previously unattainable. Provide utility to the land owner.
Advantages of starting up a pastured poultry business:
- Fast turn around. Sellable product in 8 weeks.
- Low input costs.
- Easy to get started, minimal infrastructure needed.
- Low learning curve.
- Potential for larger customer base in the beginning.
- Quick payback period.
Actionable & inspirational quotes from this episode:
- “Don’t sit back and talk about why things won’t work. Just go do something”
- “I can guarantee you that not doing anything is the wrong thing to do every-time if you want to actually make a change and have a positive impact on agriculture”
Here is a really good video showing Joel’s chicken tractor system.
Felton Acres wrote a pretty nice post about their chicken tractor operation in California. They adapted their 10x12x2 Salatin style pens to incorporate a trail hitch so it can be pulled with a trailer dolly, they added a strand of electric wire around the perimeter to keep predators out, and they constructed the whole thing out of galvanized pipe. The design looks simple and easy to move. The electric wire idea is genius.
Here is another great small scale design shown by Milkwood. This is the perfect size for a small scale operation. And probably pretty easy to move with the bicycle tires.
“This design has nesting boxes on the sides with exterior access for egg collection, a floor that lets chook poo fall through, but does not let foxes in, and nice big bicycle wheels for easy maneuverability when it’s time to move the chickens to the next patch of pasture.”
Is farming for everyone? No. But there is opportunity out there for people looking to get into farming. And pastured poultry is one viable option to get your start.