This is something that has been bugging me lately. There are a lot of good-intentioned people out there who want to start farming, ranching or homesteading. That is great! However, they are unsure as to what type of livestock they should purchase in order to start their business or feed their families. Additionally, there are many influential people out there who have very successful farms and on those farms there are a lot of enterprises. For example, chicken, beef, pork, eggs, cheese, rabbits, gardens, market and raw milk. Again, let me reinforce that I don’t think this is a bad thing! I spent 3 months with the James family in Durango, CO who had almost everything you could think of going on and for their family, it worked.
You might have noticed that I described a farm that is similar to Polyface Farm which is located in Virginia and run by the Salatin family (among many other people). This farm is greatly diversified, organized and efficient. However, many people just starting out don’t realize how many people there are working at Polyface in order for it to function. The amount of work that goes into Polyface farm is staggering. Again, this is not a bad thing. However it can be deceiving for some people who haven’t read all of Joel Salatin’s books and have just seen or heard about his farm. Joel states in his books that you should have one centerpiece enterprise. This could mean that meat chickens are your main focus, and you should only add something else that compliments those chickens. What is that? I don’t know, it depends on you, your climate, your proximity to markets etc.
It took Polyface quite a while to get to where they are today. What they have today is an incredible achievement and my hat goes off to them. The message I’m trying to deliver is this: Be careful when you are starting your farm/ranch and add enterprises slowly. Reading all of these farming ranching books is great and motivating, it’s how I got started on all of this! But please realize that you will be in a world of hurt if during your first season if you go out and start grazing cattle, raising meat chickens, grazing sheep and raising rabbits. Yes, eventually you can get to this stage! I’m not trying to discourage you, I want you to be successful. But please realize that Polyface has 15 or more interns working for them during their growing season. Chances are you won’t have access to that amount of labor. You might be able to pull off all of the enterprises I listed above, but you will soon burn out and then what will you be left with?
Last but not least, and I know you’ve heard me say it before. What works for Ian Mitchell-Innes in South Africa might not work for you in Wisconsin. What works for Joel Salatin in Virginia might not work for you in Alabama. However you can use their methods of production as motivation and tweak them to fit how you want to farm.
Start slow, experiment, monitor your decisions and then one day you can have a well diversified farm with all of the livestock you’ve dreamed of.