This week's class gives a broad overview of things to consider when integrating animals into your permaculture system. (Please note that we'll cover barnyard birds next week; this week focuses on mammals.)
Meeting livestock needs: a primer
This section by Kelda Lorax
All animals need food, water, shelter, and space to be themselves. Whether you’re raising cows or edible grasshoppers, you should always assess how much time and materials their maintenance will require. This often means sharing responsibilities. Whether it’s a cow that’s milked by a whole neighborhood, or a big family that shares chores, always have a back-up plan for if you get sick (or if you want a vacation).
For any animal you plan to raise, you need to consider:
Tips and tricks for including animals in a permaculture system
This section was created by PWG faculty member and Welsh sheep farmer, Marit Parker.
Starting with livestock is a big decision so remember that you don’t have to jump straight in and start breeding straight away.
There are ways of having a go first:
And don’t rush! Give yourself time to learn and gain experience looking after one type of animal before starting with another type of animal. Here are some specific pointers for a few different kinds of commonly-found farm animals.
One of the first decisions you have to make if you are starting with sheep is which breed of sheep to go for. And that will depend partly on the type of land you have and the climate, as some breeds of sheep are more hardy than others. Hill and mountain sheep are hardy animals that can survive out in harsh conditions all year round. Lowland sheep need better pasture and some shelter. It will also depend on your reason for keeping sheep. Sheep produce wool, meat, milk - and more sheep!
All sheep grow wool, but some grow finer wool than others. If wool is your main reason for keeping sheep, it is worth talking to spinners and weavers and also visiting agricultural shows, especially if there are rare breeds of sheep competing.
All sheep can provide meat, but some grow to bigger weights than others, and the flavour of meat from different breeds varies quite a lot. Think about who the meat is for. Is it just for your family? Or are you hoping to sell it?
All sheep produce milk for their lambs. A select few breeds can also be milked, usually for making cheese. Manchego for example is made from sheep’s milk, and traditionally so was Wensleydale cheese.
Even if wool isn’t your primary reason for keeping sheep, your sheep will need to be sheared every year for their own health and comfort. However, because nylon (ie plastic) is more popular for clothes, blankets and carpets, the value of run-of-the-mill fleeces is less than the cost of shearing them. So wool has become a waste product, instead of being valued for its warmth and its breathability, and the fact it doesn’t pollute the environment with microplastics. Time to close the circle and change back to wool!
Take a look at Shepherdess Lesley Perrett’syou-tube channel where she demonstrates practical skills needed for looking after sheep.
Cows, being bigger animals, need more space than sheep. However, they fit well with sheep in a permaculture system because cows eat long grass, whereas sheep eat short grass, so sheep can follow cows in the rotation system.
These days, cattle are divided into beef breeds and dairy breeds, but most older breeds are dual purpose. If you are thinking of having a house cow, then a dual purpose breed makes sense because in order to produce milk, a cow needs to have a calf. And you want both good milk and a calf you can eventually have beef from.
Cattle reared on pasture play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the meadow, and in ensuring the soil continues to store carbon.
Goats are browsers, not grazers, which means they prefer eating trees and shrubs to grass. They are also agile and can jump and climb, so good fencing is crucial.
A herd of goats can destroy an orchard in a matter of minutes, so don't even try to keep pet goats in a food forest environment unless you have a solid, permanent enclosure for them.
They can also clear acres of brambles and/or poison oak in a matter of days. Design makes the difference.
Many permaculture sites keep rabbits for manure, meat, and weed control. They're easy, quiet, and don't take up a ton of space, though it's hard to keep them free-range because they are quickly stolen by raptors, so you end up having to keep them in cages, which might not be preferable for some designers.
Pets in a permaculture system
Pets are part of our lives and part of our families, so mustn’t be forgotten when we are thinking about animals in a permaculture system, and about designing our whole system to be sustainable.
This could be a whole class by itself, but know this: pet poo can be composted. It is part of the natural system after all. In this article, a veterinarian explains why it became unpopular to do this, and how to do it safely.
Wildlife Habitat: it's not just for Zone 5!
We don't have time to get into wildlife habitat and restoration strategies, but bring an awareness into your designer's mind about the wild creatures, big and small, that exist in nearly every niche of your design. Wildlife in your permaculture design shouldn't be relegated to Zone 5 and forgotten. Wherever you are, there is wildlife there too!
Start noticing wildlife around you, from tiny critters to birds and bees. Try seeing the world from their perspectives. What are their habitats? What do they do with their energy? What do they eat? What eats them? How can you protect their habitat and provide more places for them, or, if you want them to go away, how can you redirect them without hurting them?
Made for kids but seriously fun and educational for all ages, Wildlife Watch offers a collection of worksheets to help people learn about how to care for and cultivate wildlife wherever you go.
Wild harvest mice are as big as your thumb and live only 18 months...inside your flowers! Image from this article.
Map the animal activity on your site. How many different types of animals live there? Make a species list and learn as much as you can about who lives on your permaculture site with you.
Brainstorm about what types of animals you'd like to add. How will you integrate their needs, wastes, and energies into your system?
Go out of your way to embark on some site visits. This is an important part of learning about permaculture, and especially when it comes to animals. If you don't know how to connect with local places, give a shout-out in our FB group and see if anybody lives near you. Maybe you can go to their place, or you can find places to go together!
Suggested types of sites to visit:
Relevant Links and Resources
For the vegans in the crowd, you'll for sure want to check out the work of UK permaculture teacher Graham Burnett, author of The Vegan Book of Permaculture: Recipes for Healthy Eating and Earthright Living and several other excellent permaculture books.
Temple Grandin’s website is packed full of information from her lifelong study of livestock behavior, design of facilities and humane slaughter.
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