Animal integration in a Permaculture farm

When you wish to integrate a new animal species in a Permaculture farm you need first to assess the particularities of the species you want to introduce (large , small, highly domesticated, compliant, independent, etc..) in relation with the available space, the animal social environment  including predators and the nutrients you can provide. e.g. a horse will need a lot of pasture (in which context ? tropical grass is less nutritive…) and need a herd to feel comfortable, a milk cow will need regular care, a goat will eat all young plants and even tree bark if in a confined environment, a pig is clever (more than a dog) and very adaptive but need biomass, a donkey is smart and sometime too independent to easily manage, guinea fowls will  form a very noisy orchestra if more than 1, a goose will challenge your children or any person insecure with farm animals, etc . If you made your choice over a specific animal, a difficult one to handle and integrate in your farm just be aware that it will take a lot of your energy that you could have spent in more productive activities, however Permaculture provides with a lot of spare time if you are smart enough so it is a feasible challenge …

Animals are very evolved forms of life, meaning that they are as well very sophisticated elements  of an ecosystem. It means that you are not introducing some kind of radish (my respect to radish)  but a highly context demanding organism in the ecosystem. If you do it wrong you’ll create suffering for you and the animal  you wish to introduce.

Rule 1 : start very very very small,

First create an habitat, observe day and year cycles, see how nutrients needs for this animal impact your farm (do you need to buy additional nutrients at the pet shop ?). Is your animal healthy ? How your animal impacts the design of the farm ?

You want to introduce ducks ? Ok, let’s start with that, some google search will prove you that ducks needs water bath…. A duck on the ground is like this Albatross from Charles Baudelaire, a clumsy clown looking desperately for a landing spot. It walks heavily and pitifully but when it come to swim and to fly then it is a change of paradigm and the chrysalis becomes butterfly you wish you could impersonate.

So you need a pond ?

That will become you first mistake ! … Of quantity not quality, meaning that you’ll focus so much in making such a big and fancy pond that in the end the pond will strain all your water resources.

Let’s say we are in the tropics … when the sun is high and the duck will have eaten all the aquatic plants (they will need about 2 hours to devastate this) what will remain ? a Turkish bath in the open air, getting warmer and warmer in the tropics and boiling with duck feces and anaerobic bacteria …

Ok, I think you got the picture, your ducks will evolve in a s… swamp by the end of the day. Over three days they’ll get sick because their pond is as well a soup which help them to process food. So what is the solution ?

If you start small you’ll observe, when it is raining, that a duck likes clean water, a puddle will become then the happy scenery of “I’m singing under the rain “. It means that if you want to build a sustainable environment for your ducks, either you have a lake with the capacity to handle water regeneration at a large scale or you have a backyard and you want to provide with a puddle large enough to make your duck happy and small enough that your source of water (constant and clean) will renew it and remove anaerobic bacteria in it.  So maybe the solution is not a huge pond but a small one which water you can renew easily, for example connected with a buffer tank harvesting rain water from a roof nearby,  and the capability to use the polluted water out of the pond as a fertilizer for your vegetable garden down the hill…

Did I say; “how to integrate and handle ducks in your farm” ? No , I said “start small and observe”, a systemic approach to integrating animals depending on your context. I guess you may find hundreds of specific information about ducks on the internet; that they lay eggs in the morning so that you release them after 9 am if they usually go errand during the day, that you may let them fly away if they know that they will find a source of food in their native yard and come back, having as a result very healthy duck finding all they need for their  diet elsewhere if missing in your farm, meaning that you would have to specifically care about their comfort and protection; you’ll observe that their claws will cut the higher part of a plastic sheet, if you use this material for your pond, when they jump out of the pond, requiring you to protect it with stone, logs, used tires,etc., making sure as well that the water level does not go beneath this protection; that they love slugs and snails but as well tender vegetation like young trees, banana leaves, vegetables and they will remove all vegetation if in a confined area. etc.  All this will impact the design of your operational processes and functions and change your development choices; what will be the kind of food they like and how and where can I grow them; can I let them go errand in specific areas assuming that their impact will be controlled, can they help controlling snails in the veggie garden, so how should I design the beds so to protect them from their voracious hunger ? etc.

Every context a different approach, every animal a different discovery.

If things go wrong, animals will take all your available time preventing you even to care about regular operations, which can be very impacting.

Rule 2: Search for information and challenge opinions

As everyone knows, Internet is part information and part opinions and many articles are  generous on duplicating knowledge that the authors never tested.
So search and search and search and even check with your experienced neighbors and if you find discordance then it is time to try to understand what is the problem between mainstream “expectation” and reality.

An example; the “Caramujo Africano”. It is a African snail introduced in Brazil long time ago with the hope that people would become adept to the french or portuguese way which consists in forgetting that this animal was slimy before to be cooked, did not worked and the snails were thrown away in nature, without predators to contain their development. It is now a plague which devours vegetable gardens, hidden in the mulch layer and continuing its nocturne progression all over Brazil.

If you Google “Caramujo Africano” in Brazil you’ll see that this animal is the devil. In its intestine and slobber it hides virus, pathogens and some amoeba with an obscure Latin nickname that will kills you in the next  minutes if you are unlucky enough just to look at it without gloves. However if you look further you see that they are 5 percent of information streams which tells you that Caramujo Africano is not a vector of this famous killing amoeba in Brazil. Indeed this sickness exist in Africa but no case of sickness ever happened in Brazil. This erroneous information has been duplicated so many time with the help of a consensual Google that it has become a Brazilian official statement making difficult to find the truth.

The same happens for raised bed. In this case if you look for a success story about Hugel Kultur you’ll find no balance, either a total success or a total failure in the tropics. The issue is that the hot temperatures dries everything so quickly that a raised bed become a dry bed in 2 days if you do not add an irrigation feature to it, even if made with a lot of organic matter.

Only if you really look for information and not “opinions” you’ll find the truth about it. One way to discern information from opinion is when article substantiate the reasons of such method they describe, not giving you a recipe but the underlying reasons of the solutions they propose.

Conclusion; search for contextual information (Variant of Principle no 2 of David Holgrem : catch local resource), e.g. adaptation of an animal to a specific climate, country, forest vs pasture, etc… and search for marginal information (Variant of Principle no 11 of David Holgrem: “Use edges & value the marginal”, adapted here to research and observation.)

Rule 3: Be aware that things change

A pet becomes adult, has a salvage dimension you should respect and could invade your domesticated space with maybe some confrontation.

As well; you’ll change… it is famous that animal farmers are more rude than vegetable or crop farmers. Vegetables growing makes you tender and patient, in some Asian culture you even “listen vegetables growing”… . Animals growing makes you hierarchical and authoritarian. When you need to check an animal for disease you’ll have no time to wait and many time you need to go against the will of the sick animal to cure him. I have seen many situations where animals were put on the ground and immobilized rudely to be able to access the wounds and heal the animal. If you have time to gain the trust of an animal and apply a soft approach that’s fine, then once again ; start small it will give you the time you need for this kind of method, otherwise you may face an ethical problem.

Rule 4: Be aware of your duties

A plant can be let alone for an extended period of time, an animal, if highly domesticated will need your constant presence. Chicken needs to be put in the coop every night for predator protection, a milk cow needs to be cared frequently, a dog needs food everyday, etc. Having an animal in the farm will change your routine as it creates sophisticated dependency with the farm functioning. You may ask friend to help when you are away but they will need some experience in that matter.

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