Friday, June 06, 2008

Permaculture for Animals. I enjoy writing this blog; in fact, I enjoy the process of writing and I aspire, someday, to write a book. Recently, I’ve been thinking that there is a large hole in the market, ready for a book about permaculture written specifically for animals.

What do I mean? Well here are two examples of animals not really getting the point of permaculture. First off, our chickens: they’re free-range and, it would be fair to say, they take full advantage of this and range freely. Consider our new rose beds. Made from some recycled hardwood boards supplied by neighbour Serge and planted up with very English hybrid tea roses—colour, scent, edible petals, soap-making, etc.—companion planted with violas—pretty, also with edible flowers, which give a mixed salad a really special touch. Add a permaculture mulch of cocoa shells, a by-product of chocolate production, and a doesn’t-need-mowing path of chamomile, sit back, pour yourself a glass of wine and reflect what a great permaculturist you are. Then introduce a peep of permacultural hens. (And that is a genuine collective noun for chickens!) Watch the top video and you can see what a disaster it was for us. We’ve had to lay a horizontal mesh which prevents the chickens from scratching the mulch away but doesn’t stop them eating the edible viola flowers.

My second example is our using the ubiquitous comfrey as animal fodder. Its deep tap roots mine the soil of nutrients, filling its leaves with minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron and phosphorous. It’s a real permaculture plant but, if you cultivate comfrey, you should use the “Bocking 14” cultivar of Russian comfrey, which is very productive whilst producing almost no viable seed, so it stays where you put it (rather than spreading everywhere and taking over). The Bocking 4 variety (which I’m still trying to get hold of) is recommended for animal fodder. We’ve got an established comfrey patch. The chickens peck at it en passant, a sort of “Drive-Thru” eatery, and Bunny Lapine scoffs it, so I recently thought I try out our pigs and goats on it. Watch the second video to get a flavour of the results of our taste test: “four out of five goats, who expressed a preference, preferred …


Robbyn said...

I'm laughing at the goat (beautiful goat, too!) showing his/her definate preference...too cute! Funny you mention it, we just received a Bocking 14 comfrey we ordered, not knowing one from the other. Now I won't feel silly watching for it to produce seed and never finding any :)

Anonymous said...

I thought that the official permaculture recipe for chickens was the chook tractor. I am quite satisfied with mine, and I believe the tenants are happy too.

Mandarine / kristen

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Thank you, Robbyn and Kristen, for you comments. We have a square-profile chicken tractor but having seen how far our flock free-range and all their social interactions, etc., we prefer to let them roam and fence in things like the vegetable patch and gite (holiday cottage) garden rather than restrict the chickens. We just use the chicken tractor now as a nursery for a mother hen and her new chicks and, with the addition of a mesh underneath, for young rabbits as well.

Val Grainger said...

Brilliant! Problem is most people who profess to practise permaculture are theorists.......who trot out the same info that they were given about animals in permaculture without EVER having actually tried it (at this point I throw my hands in despair and roll my eyes)
Chicken tractor for example....fine if the coop contains say 3 chickens and is moved EVERY day or so after eating the bugs, scratching up the surface and fertilising it they should be moved on otherwise its cruel compared to free range! Others advocate using perennial crops to feed hens....fine in countries where high protein perennial plants crop heavily and hens can range good in northern european climates as laying hens would not get enough to eat or enough protein to ever lay more than a few eggs and meat breeds would not make meat...not surprising since the 'model' was based on Australia and Asia!

Zoneing with cattle and sheep put out in the outer zones....fine in Australia....not fine here!! I have yet to meet ANYONE involved in teaching permaculture who has actually kept more than a few pet sheep,or helped out with the odd cow!......its all theory!
Feeding plants such as comfrey is only relevant where the animal has no choice but to eat it as it is kept inside with the fodder bought to it......I have never known a goat to choose to eat it!.....well not in GB!

I keep sheep and pigs and have kept cows, goats and horses......most permaculturists are vegetarians or vegans, and whilst I have no problem with that I do have a problem with them telling me how animals fit into permaculture.

In my opinion sheep are the perfect permaculture tool....they graze herbage that grows beneath fruit trees and clear up any fallen fruit, they eat hay in winter which is grass that has stored the energy in it during early summer when in abundance by being dried, they produce meat, wool(for clothing and mulch etc), skins, horns (if a horned breed)they improve grassland, will thrive on margins and edges, will eat some surplus fruit and veg.....and produce manure which if collected and mixed with water produces amazing plant food and if kept in during winter will produce great manure when bedded on straw. What more can I say!

Val Grainger said... already writing that book!

Dancingfarmer said...

Well, thanks for the comfrey update...I guess your goat didn't like it? :-D
I have heard though...from people that actually use it...that it is great for composting...I'll find out soon enough.

Also, would you be interested in joining into a "meme"? See my June 16th blog entry. You don't have to...but an "overseas" opinion would be interesting.


Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Thank you Val & Monica for your comments. The chicken forage systems that you refer to Val are great in theory but with few working examples. I've managed to germinate from seed one Bladder Senna, one of the perennial chicken fodder plants but had no luck so far with germinating Siberian Pea Shrub. The idea is that we'll plant them around the place and just see what happens.
I'm just about to do another blog on comfrey, Monica, and will get round to doing the meme thing soon.