Thursday, May 4, 2017

Interior farmers learn microscale farming techniques

Visiting farmer Joel Salatin, left, visits with Calypso Farm founders Tom Zimmer and Susan Willsrud. Salatin's first stop during the three-city tour of Alaska was in Fairbanks on May 2. Nancy Tarnai photo

By Nancy Tarnai
“Scalability is a big deal,” Virginia farmer Joel Salatin told 60 people who attended an Alaska Design Forum agriculture workshop Tuesday at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center.

Salatin, who calls himself “a libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer,” was on his first of three stops in Alaska.

“We are so lucky to have you here,” Calypso founder Susan Willsrud said. Attendees gathered for a potluck meal and then listened to Salatin’s advice on raising chickens, goats and sheep. Guests came from as far away as Palmer and Kenai.

Exploring the economics of farming, Salatin said, “As soon as you start using anything other than human power to move things, things start to happen.” He encouraged farmers to study how their time is spent. “A farm is more than a business,” he said. “But it is also a business. We get caught up in the altruism of it. All farm procedures have a sweet spot and tip-over points.”

Salatin likes to operate his farm ( as simply as possible, staying clear of procedures that would require government paperwork. “I try to stay outside the system,” he said.

With 4,000 chickens, his farm produces 200 dozen eggs per day. Salatin is prolific in chicken psychology and colorfully shared ways to manage egg production, with placement of nests and even lighting being key. Make sure nesting boxes are in the morning shade and place them higher so the bird has to leap in to lay eggs. “You want funky material in the nest box,” he said. “Not edible alfalfa. Put moldy hay or moldy straw or wood shavings.”

He doesn’t recommend having free range chickens on less than 50 acres and he’s a huge fan of deep-bedded composting. “There is nothing cleaner or more healthful than having animals on rapidly decomposing bedding,” Salatin said, adding that 95 percent of bugs are good and only 5 percent are bad. Dirt yards without deep bedding are terrible for the animals and ecology.

Americans should get rid of their cats, dogs, gerbils and TV and on that same carbon footprint put a couple of chickens on composting bedding that is at least a foot deep, he said. At Polyface, old, healthy, productive hens are bred to produce chickens that are larger and eggs with strong shells. “Forget about color and plumage and hairy feet and select for good offspring,” Salatin said.

Recommending the book, Rodale’s ”Complete Book of Composting,” Salatin said, “There’s a magic that happens when you link plants and animals.”

Tackling such sacred cows as Whole Foods, land-grant universities and the space program, Salatin said, “We’d be a healthier culture if no one from the government told us what to eat.”

Nicky Eiseman loved the practical advice she got from the talk. “I learned basic animal husbandry,” she said.

Kimberly Maxwell said, “I can’t wait to get home and deep bed my chicken coop. That really resonated with me. If we keep talking farmers learn from each other.”

Kimberly Jensen said she learned that scalability is key. Her husband Brian Jensen said, “I’m excited about chickens and composting.”

Ben Shaw said during the workshop he realized Alaska is 25 years behind the Lower 48 in agriculture. “That’s a good thing; it’s exciting,” he said. “Our competition is 2,000 miles away. It just takes people believing they can do it and starting it.”
Guest contributor Nancy Tarnai is freelance writer who worked for School of Natural Resources and Extension from 2008 to 2015 as its public information officer. She can be reached at  

No comments: