$alad Bar Beef – A Book Review

In BEEF, Book Reviews, Joel Salatin, Livestock & Pasture by James0 Comments

$alad Bar Beef is Joel Salatin’s book on grass fed beef. Like the last book I reviewed by Joel, Pastured Poultry Profit$, this book functions very much like a how-to on getting started and succeeding. The first question you may be wondering is “Why Salad Bar beef, and not just grass fed?” When Joel was considering what to call his grass fed beef he wanted to choose a name that best represented the product. The pastures the cows eat from contain more than grass, there is a diverse variety of forage they consume – much like a salad bar. The other major consideration when choosing the name “Salad Bar” was to emphasize the freshness of the forage. The cows are moved to a new paddock or area every day which provides a fresh “salad bar” for them to enjoy. Let’s take a minute and compare this to the industrial model. Typically, industry cows are raised on grass as well, however the grazing is not managed in the same way – basically they just roam around hundreds of acres, over graze certain areas, and end up contributing to desertification. They are then shipped to finishing lots better known as feedlots, and fed GMO corn to fatten them up which in turn destroys their stomachs making them deathly ill. To counter the damage the grain causes they’re given a heavy dose of antibiotics to keep them alive. As a result of differentiating himself from the norm, the name “Salad Bar Beef” was born. Although most discussions center around what the cows are eating when it comes to the grass fed debate, there are more pieces to the puzzle for creating the best beef on earth. I’ll touch on a few of the big ones below.

What is Wrong With the Beef Industry?

This is actually the heading for chapter four of the book and I think in doing these book reviews this is the information people value learning about more rather than actual techniques. After all, before you start to raise your own grass fed beef or purchase it, you should know why you’re doing it. I like the way Joel approaches this chapter. Pretty much everyone who has thought about food for more than a second realizes the giant feedlots where cattle meet their final days are a nightmare. It’s not a secret how these animals spend their time standing chest high in their own manure with little room to move, while being fed a steady diet that is slowly destroying their insides. If that was a secret to you, well, uh, now it isn’t, that’s what happens. But Joel doesn’t dwell on these easily accessible facts and statistics. Instead he takes the philosophical approach to the issue. Joel sets it up in the book like this:

One of my favorite questions when speaking at alternative agriculture conferences is to ask for a show of hands: “How many of you have ever argued anyone into supporting alternative agriculture?” I’ve never had a single hand go up. Why?
Because the heart screens what the ears hear. In other words, unless the heart is sympathetic, all the so-called empirical data in the world will not convince the naysayer.

I think this is sad, but true. If people don’t care about animals suffering and the resulting inferior quality of the product then little can be done to convince them from that standpoint. However removing the focus from the animals and focusing on the model Joel brings another angle to the debate. An angle even people who have no empathy for animal welfare will have to consider. Again a passage from the chapter:

How much time is spent trying to figure out how to prop up flawed paradigms? As soon as we throw out the wrong model and institute a new one, all the problems solve themselves. For example, when we throw out the feedlot model, suddenly we don’t have a dust problem, we don’t have a manure problem, we don’t have a disease (coccidiosis) problem, we don’t have a feed transportation and storage problem. These problems ONLY exist because of a flawed production model. As soon as we challenge the basic concept, the conventional paradigm, all the effort currently expended solving these problems becomes completely unnecessary. Imagine what a different world it would be if all creative energies could be focused on REAL problems instead of artificial ones manufactured by flawed paradigms.

This is the genius of what Joel Salatin does. He’s a paradigm shifter. His true talent comes from his vision of seeing the flaws in existing models of production and adjusting them in such a way that everyone wins. The farmer wins by doing less work, spending less money, and taking home a larger salary. The animals win by being able to live the best life possible before they make it to your dinner plate. And the consumer wins by being able to support a model that is economically beneficial for the local community, environmentally healing, and yields superior food to sustain their family.

Herbivores Eat Grass

The first flaw Joel focuses on is the fact that cows biologically are herbivores, and the industry model is operating under the premise that herbivores should eat grain. The reasoning behind the corn (grain) is to add weight and fat to the cow. Industrial cows are eating so much grain in fact that 70 percent of all the grain grown in the world goes to feed cattle – an animal designed by nature to eat grass. But let’s forget about the animal and take a look at the process of growing grain. Grain production is responsible for the majority of soil erosion, chemical pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer usage, and overall energy usage in agriculture. When we take a look at the alternative model of a well-managed perennial polyculture, there is no need for tillage, they’re naturally resistant to weeds, they build fertility and require no cultivation or mechanical harvesting to maintain. They are far less susceptible to drought and require less water for irrigation. As soon as the production model is changed the arguments turn from how bad beef production is for the environment to how healing it is. For a clearer view on this I suggest you watch Alan Savory’s Ted Talk presentation on the homepage of this website where he demonstrates how managed grazing is reversing desertification all over the world.

The Pharmaceutical Farm

The second flaw Joel addresses in the industrial model is the heavy use of pharmaceuticals used to maintain the cattle’s health, which in actuality translates to – keeps the cows from dropping dead because they are living in disease and being fed something that literally destroys their insides. Did I already mention that? Right, we’re not talking about the animal welfare, we’re focusing on the model… I digress. Here’s Joel’s take on the flaw in this model:

“Nature always bats last” is a phrase well worth remembering. These tiny pathogens go through a myriad of generations in just one year, adapting themselves to new drugs and new chemicals faster than human invention can respond. It is so obvious that these chemical procedures have failed that to try to prove it seems redundant. Pyrethroid fly ear tags brought resistant flies within one year of introduction. Parasites develop immunities routinely and farmers are admonished to use different wormers from time to time to slow this process. Herbicide resistant weeds, pesticide resistant bugs, the list goes on and on. When will we quit kidding ourselves that we can laugh in the face of nature and go our merry way?

This model calls for the need of an array of “fixes” that always fail, and in the process jeopardize the quality of the product. They contribute to super bugs that become resistant to nature’s natural cleansers along with the laboratory solutions. And of course everything costs more money and takes more time to manage. A flawed model. Time to throw it out.

A Centralized Food System

The next flaw in the model Joel highlights is centralization. Two of the biggest side effects of centralization of animals is pollution and disease. Animals living together in such density always leads to disease. Just like the chickens in the houses cows live in a pathogen-laden fecal dust which invades their bodies through their respiratory system. Instead of the manure being used as an asset to rebuild soils and fertilize it becomes a major pollution hazard. Mountains of the stuff accumulates and leaches into the water system. The other factor which comes into play is the huge transportation costs. Joel points out that it takes 15 calories of energy to put 1 calorie of food on the American table using this model. Of those 15 calories, 4 of them are for transportation. The average T-bone steak sold in American supermarkets has traveled nearly 2,000 miles. Not so efficient. Joel goes on to sum up the chapter on a positive note:

In a nutshell, what is wrong with the beef industry is essentially what the anti-beef crowd has been preaching for some time. It relies on “toxic rescue chemistry,” as Charles Woods, Jr., editor of Acres, USA, says repeatedly in his editorials. But the good news is that it need not be that way. This is a positive book about a positive alternative, and while we may take another little jab or two at the conventional beef industry, the rest of this book well be upbeat, encouraging and proactive.

And it is. Chapter four sets the stage for the rest of the book which is everything Joel says it will be. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what the book has to offer to the wannabe farmer or casual reader.

What is in the Book?

Considering Salad Bar Beef
-The Salad Bar Beef Opportunity
-Why Salad Bar Beef?
-What is Salad Bar Beef?
-What is Wrong with the Beef Industry?
-Fat Animals, Fat People

Developing the Salad Bar
-Family Background
-Getting Started
-What Kind of Pasture?
-Pond Advantages
-Choosing a Breed
-Choosing a Bull
-Handling Facilities
-Electric Fencing
-Paddock Layout

Harvesting the Salad Bar
-Grazing Philosophy
-Matching Seasons, Nutrition and Grass
-Grass Observations
-Cow-Days: Measurements and Applications
-Moving Cattle: Logistics and Economics
-The Mob
-Monitoring: Watch the Cows

Maintaining the Salad Bar
-The Eggmobile
-Soil Fertility
-When to Apply Soil Amendments
-How Much Hay?
-Making Good Hay
-Winter Hay Feeding: The Nutrients
-The Hay Feeding: Nutrient Capture and Cow Comfort
-Pigerators and Compost

Marketing the Salad Bar
-Relationship Marketing
-Sales Versus Profits
-Developing a Clientele
-Communicating with Customers
-Processing and Regulations
-Pickup Day Logistics

Extending the Salad Bar
-Cooking Salad Bar Beef

Another thing Joel includes in both appendices to $alad Bar Beef and Pastured Poultry Profit$ are newsletters he’s sent out over the years. It’s how he gathers orders for the year, and communicates with his customers. Reading those letters is very educational for any wannabe farmer.

Final Thoughts from a Wannabe Farmer

Joel Salatin is the man who inspired me and so many others to consider the farming profession. This book is one of his classics for good reason and should be at the top of the list for anyone considering starting a grass fed or “Salad Bar” beef enterprise. True to form Joel weaves philosophy and personal stories into a book that’s rich in technique and amounts to an educational and inspiring read. Half of education is inspiration after all.

Posted below are two detailed charts that break down the differences between Joel’s beef and the conventional beef. Click on the images then click again for a magnified view.











Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)


And finally here is Joel in action with his Salad Bar Beef. Enjoy!

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