More thoughts about the Pollan book

Micheal Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those books that you keep on thinking about long after you finish reading it. I wrote a review of it a few days ago in case you're interested.

The reason I bring this up is that today while driving past a number of cow pastures on my way to work---have I mentioned that I live in a very rural area?--I was thinking of Pollan's description of Polyface, a small self-sustaining farm in Virginia, and their methods of keeping cows.

Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface, doesn't just put cows out in a pasture, which is the common practice elsewhere. What they do at Polyface is only allow the cows in any given area for a short period of time and use light portable fences to keep them in that one area. The reason for this is that cows, not surprisingly, like to eat the grass that tastes the best to them. In fact they'll crop that type of grass right down to the ground which often kills the grass. Then the cows will move onto less desirable grasses. Before long, the only grasses alive in the typical pasture are the ones that the cows have the least amount of interest in.

At Polyface, by moving the cows freqently, the desired grasses are kept alive by having the cows just crop the tops of the grass--just like if you or I had mowed the grass there. That just sets up the grass for rapid growth and doesn't hurt it. So in a week or two, the cows can be returned to this plot of grass and they'll have more of the type of grass they like best. Neat.

However that's just the start of the stystem, which is why I use the term self-sustaining for the farm. You see, after the cows leave the plot of grass, Salatin or his employees move chickens into the plot. The chickens will scour the plot for insects and seeds which are often in the cow patties (manure) which means that the chickens will break up the patties allowing for quicker return to the earth--and also add in their own high nitrogen waste. This potent combo is like fertilizer on steroids--but without the actual use of steroids in their cows--and so the grass grows quite quickly and that leads back to the cows cropping it back.

A self sustaining and well thought out method of using regular land to raise cattle and chickens. Yet most farms simply let their cows out onto a pasture everyday and that's it. It's really quite a book and the description of the Polyface farm is the centerpiece in the book. Well worth reading.


grant said…
i know this comment isn't related to the correct article, but I just couldn't be a vegetarian.
I love meat and dairy too much.
However, I wish you luck in your quest.

Michele sent me via you, if you see what I mean.
srp said…
Here from Michele this time.
Thinking back on all that history I read once upon a time... in the old west... didn't the cattle ranchers battle with the sheep ranchers over grazing land just for this reason. I always thought the cattle grazed the tops of the grass and the sheep were the ones who ate it to the ground. Perhaps they fought for nothing.
utenzi said…
You're totally correct about the cow versus sheep issue,Roxanne. A cow, given its druthers, would just have one bite from the top but if you keep that cow in the same pasture for a long time it'll keep going back to the grass that it thought tasted best. Sheep, on the other hand, just crop to the ground as a matter of course.
David said…
i learn something every day!
here from michele
Wordnerd said…
This is absolutely fascinating! Thanks for the suggestion!

Here from Michele's!
G. Nat Salpigga said…
Very interesting, the interplay between the different species each complementing the other so that they form more than the sum of their parts.
Michele sent me.
Mr. Althouse said…
That's all very interesting, but it sounds like it makes sense. There's not a snowballs chance in hell it will catch on in any significant way. it's far too simple.

Michele sent me,

utenzi said…
You're right that it's simple, Mike, but it's also labor intensive and that's the big reason it can't feed the multitudes. At least not in this country where the cost of labor is too high.
Shephard said…
That's brilliant. Shame people don't take the extra effort to do what's best for the cows and the farm. Maybe it'll catch on.
Michele says hello!
carli said…
That is very interesting. I've been considering reading OD, but I'm afraid it will make me very afraid and very angry. And just for fun, did you know that now that the government is pushing for more ethanol use, the price of corn--though still heavily subsidized--is going UP? And since corn is now more in demand than ever, and since it's in just about every food, there is the potential that the price of corn can drive food prices up and land us smack in the middle of economic disaster? Yay.
Blond Girl said…
Hey Utenzi. Michele sent me.

Wow, this is very interesting. Now to me, a cow is a leather jacket or something we point out to our daughter on long road trips, but this still makes amazing sense. I hope this guy sends his writing to every ag college around so that other farmers can learn this. I suppose this method is probably more work, but it stands to reason that if the grass is better, then the milk and meat will be better.

Now the thing that I don't understand about farmers (this is something I've only learned since we moved to a urban/ag area) is why do farmers allow barns to just fall apart and rot on their land? I see all these ghost barns next to nice new ones. It's disturbing!
Pat said…
hi Utenzi- Michele sent me. I wish we could borrow those cows for the week-end. Our lawn is very overgrown what with the mild winter.
colleen said…
Is this the family farm I heard about on NPR yesterday? It's a funny name for a farm, but a great idea. Michele sent me because I wanted to come.
Bob-kat said…
Very clever. It reminds me of the history we did at school where we learned about crop rotation, exce[t this is with animals!

Hope your veggie diet is going well!

Michele sent me to say hi this time.
Sarch said…
How interesting...I just love a well thought out plan. Somebody has their thinkin' cap on.

Here on my own...just passing through and thought I'd say hi.
NICKEL said…
I enjoy the layout of your blog.

Michele sent me.
Yaeli said…
Sorry Blogger has dicked you around again! I was toying with the idea of joining up to the new blogger but after hearing about your experiences I don't think I will. I don't want to risk losing everything.

The only thing that's missing from your blog is a big bold link to mine!!

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