From late May through early
October, the Salatin family slaughters up to 8,000 broilers
on their farm in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Today is another 'Chicken Day.' Seven workers gather in the
farm's open-air processing pavilion. They are eager to start,
because the driver who will deliver the freshly dressed chickens
to gourmet restaurants in cities 80 to 240 kilometers away
will arrive in just two-and-a-half hours. Besides, it's cold
and windy this morning. The workers need to keep busy to stay
The group represents three generations of the Salatin family:
Matriarch Lucille Salatin, her son Joel, his wife Teresa and
their two children, 16-year-old Daniel and 10-year-old Rachel.
Then there is Joshua 'Cowboy Josh' Griggs, a 20-year-old from
the state of Washington, who is living at the Salatin farm
for a one-year apprenticeship. (Another apprentice, Daniel
Bergen, left that morning to return to his home state of Maine
after spending two months on the farm.) Pat O'Connor from
Florida just happened to be in the area. He stopped for a
day to learn by helping.
Polyface Farm has become a Mecca for beginning farmers who
want to follow in the Salatins' pioneering footsteps. The
farm is called Polyface -- 'Farm of Many Faces' -- because,
unlike most American farms, it is highly diversified. Instead
of producing only grains, milk or meat, Polyface offers beef,
eggs and poultry (broilers and stewing hens), turkey, pork,
rabbit, firewood and other forest products and even some vegetables.
All of the animals are fed on pasture as much as possible
rather than on grain.
'I am the privileged third generation to continue the principles
based on the belief that God created the Earth and established
humanity as its steward, to nurture, protect and embellish.
This philosophy precludes the use of toxic chemicals, debasing
substances, and erosive practices, and instills instead an
insatiable thirst for agricultural truth,' Joel Salatin wrote
in the introduction to his popular 1993 book 'Pastured Poultry
Profits.' The book explains, step-by-step, how a couple working
50 hours a week for six months on just eight hectares can
net at least $25,000 a year with an investment equivalent
to the price of one new medium-sized tractor. 'Seldom has
agriculture held out such a plum. In a day when main-line
farm experts predict the continued demise of the family farm,
the pastured poultry opportunity shines like a beacon in the
night.' A former newspaper reporter, Salatin has also written
a book on his 'Salad Bar Beef' and produced a video on the
Consumers also flock to his farm. Polyface Farm now has
about 400 regular customers who want to buy fresh, more nutritious
meat, eggs and vegetables directly from the people who produce
it all. Many consumers drive more than 200 kilometers to pick
up their meat and produce at Polyface Farm. They pay $3.19
per kilo for broilers and $2.97 per kilo for the larger 'stewing
hens,' which have been laying eggs for the past two years.
Those customers will begin arriving midday. They will be gone
by 5 p.m. And so will all of the 250 broilers that still must
be killed and cleaned -- in just the next two hours.
Slaughter begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. The goal is to be
completely finished by 10:30 a.m. O'Connor, the least skilled
of the workers, manhandles the first of 30 crates of birds
from a stack on a tractor-drawn trailer outside the pavilion.
The birds were taken off of feed and crated about 12 hours
earlier so that their craws would be clear for slaughter.
He grabs the birds by their feet. Wings flap. Eight white
chickens are up-ended in the galvanized metal 'killing cones'
at the far end of the processing line. Razor-sharp boning
knives flash in the early morning sun. The chickens' throats
have been slit. Bright red blood flows down a metal trough
and into a large plastic bucket. In a minute or so, the chickens
are 'bled out.' They're moved on to the next station in the
processing line. And a fresh batch of birds is inserted into