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 …