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Animal Guilds

 
pollinator
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Animal Guilds are not a new Idea. The Mongols have grazed 6 animals together for centuries if not millenia: horses, sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and oxen. Each has a different diet and performs a different ecological function. They rarely do this now as sheep and goats for export now bring in more money and thus the steppe pastures have degraded. They used to move their herds more often, but land ownership has reduced the movement of herds. Bringing back this biodiversity and rotational grazing would likely restore the land.

But what about other animals? I propose a temperate food forest guild of my own. Regularly harvested to reduce population and keep the FF healthy, it would be a sustainable farming practice. Animals with natural coloration should be chosen so that they have resistance to predation.

The backbone of this guild is Mallard Ducks. They can fly, but once a population has spent the winter at your farm in safety, they regard your property as home and will always return. Ducks and geese promote healthy water features and a reduction in insect pests. Geese and turkeys provide predator protection. Get turkeys that can't fly but still have natural color such as Broad-Breasted Bronze. They will hop and flutter but not roost in trees like Wild Turkeys. The next animals eat grass and clear fallen fruit. Miniature cattle are applicable if you have a relatively open and mature FF of at least 2 acres. But if not, get rabbits. I recommend French Lops, they are quite big, and their meat and pelt quality is high (which is what they were bred for). Next are the small poultry. These eat things that others can't even get at like termites and soil grubs. They are the ringneck pheasant, quail, and chukar. These are gamebirds all. The addition of minnows, crawdads, and turtles to your waterways is ideal as well.

I recommend harvesting your game animals by bow and arrow so as not to stress the remainder of them. Follow the local hunting seasons for best results.

This is my own model and my own plan for my own farm. If you cannot tolerate a species or the species your climate, then omit it. Do not add sheep, goats, or chickens to the mix. They will damage your system without control and supervision.
 
pollinator
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The problem I see is that most people don't have the vast acreage needed for such a system.

I have 20 acres, of which most is used for pasturing. The land isn't clear grass. It has trees of varying density (food forest zones, orchard, woodlot, wild reserve area), plus open spots. I find that the animals poorly utilized the land when allowed uncontrolled access to the entire 20 acres. The animals included turkeys, ducks, chickens,  sheep, goats, equines. My rabbits, as required by law, were confined up off the ground. I brought food to them. Plus two varieties of wild pheasants. I had a pig but she did far too much damage to the land, so she now resides elsewhere. By switching to a rotational pasture system, I have been able to increase the number of animals this farm can support. Plus the land, pastures, and forest are much healthier looking.

If I had say, 20,000 acres, maybe such a system would work. I admit that I'm not trying to mimic nature on my 20 acres. My aim is to develop a permanent agricultural system based upon how nature works. I see that as being a tad different.
 
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Ryan Hobbs wrote:Animal Guilds are not a new Idea. The Mongols have grazed 6 animals together for centuries if not millenia: horses, sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and oxen. Each has a different diet and performs a different ecological function. They rarely do this now as sheep and goats for export now bring in more money and thus the steppe pastures have degraded. They used to move their herds more often, but land ownership has reduced the movement of herds. Bringing back this biodiversity and rotational grazing would likely restore the land.

But what about other animals? I propose a temperate food forest guild of my own. Regularly harvested to reduce population and keep the FF healthy, it would be a sustainable farming practice. Animals with natural coloration should be chosen so that they have resistance to predation.

The backbone of this guild is Mallard Ducks. They can fly, but once a population has spent the winter at your farm in safety, they regard your property as home and will always return. Ducks and geese promote healthy water features and a reduction in insect pests. Geese and turkeys provide predator protection. Get turkeys that can't fly but still have natural color such as Broad-Breasted Bronze. They will hop and flutter but not roost in trees like Wild Turkeys. The next animals eat grass and clear fallen fruit. Miniature cattle are applicable if you have a relatively open and mature FF of at least 2 acres. But if not, get rabbits. I recommend French Lops, they are quite big, and their meat and pelt quality is high (which is what they were bred for). Next are the small poultry. These eat things that others can't even get at like termites and soil grubs. They are the ringneck pheasant, quail, and chukar. These are gamebirds all. The addition of minnows, crawdads, and turtles to your waterways is ideal as well.

I recommend harvesting your game animals by bow and arrow so as not to stress the remainder of them. Follow the local hunting seasons for best results.

This is my own model and my own plan for my own farm. If you cannot tolerate a species or the species your climate, then omit it. Do not add sheep, goats, or chickens to the mix. They will damage your system without control and supervision.



Rabbits, quail, minnows.  Sounds about right for a suburban backyard.    Ducks and other poultry are too big or have needs that can't be met in that space.  Or, like chickens, have zoning restrictions.  
 
master pollinator
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I hope to have a Chickens, Red Wigglers, Black Soldier Fly Larvae, and Pillbugs/Sowbugs guild in a composting chicken run in the future.  I will need to devise temporary protective devices for the Miniherds to keep them from the Chickens part of the time.

 
Su Ba
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Tyler, I like that concept of your animal guild. I think I was a bit too harsh on my initial response. Sorry.
 
Chris Bright
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Just thinking for a suburban backyard.  
Guinea pigs were domesticated from grass eaters.  They need vitamin C, peppers? rose  hips?  Rabbits, do they do on mixed grass and clover lawns?  What about coccidia?  Alliums like onion and garlic have a natural antibiotic, can rabbits, guinea pigs or both eat them?  Do chives help rabbits with coccidia?  Do some rabbit breeds do better on grass than others?  Rabbits need branches to gnaw on, so do rodents.  How much pasture would I need per herbivore?  Both are very quiet animals that would be unlikely to attract unwanted attention.  How difficult would it be to dig proof a rabbit pasture, either fencing down a foot or so or laying poultry fencing on the entire ground and letting pasture grow up through it?  I don't think guinea pigs dig, except in straw/leaf litter to make dens/nests.

Quail, pigeons or both?  There are game bird seed mixes to attract quail and pheasant to hunting areas.  In small areas, protection could be built fairly easily.  Small enough to keep baby quail and guinea pigs in, strong enough to keep cats and other potential predators out.  Pigeons will fly off to forage, but will return to their nest box once they have learned that it is home.  How much area would I need to have in seed production for Japanese quail?  For Chinese quail?  For naturally colored Texas A&M bred American quail?  Quail are, again, very quiet birds that are unlikely to attract attention.  Chickens are affected by zoning regulations where I live, no more than 4, no roosters, all hens.  Which means no breeding.

Rosey Red fathead minnows are only a few inches long, are just as hardy as regular fathead minnows used as bait, but prettier.  Some species of darter are very pretty, others can get up to 12" at maturity.  Madtom catfish are native to North America, so would be winter hardy detritivores for a small pond.  What about snails?  Can all be eaten?  How invasive would a "meat" snail species be if I introduced one?  I suspect sauteing in  enough butter and garlic would make just about any protein palatable.  To some extent, fish are fish, from an edible standpoint.  Could I breed enough in a small system to be worth harvesting minnows, darters, maybe a pygmy sunfish species or two or would it just be worth the aquaponic nutrient value?  Would I be able to grow enough plankton, duckweed and other plants to feed the fish?  How much of the fish nutrients would be taken up by the pond plants and how much left over for garden plants?

I would be interested in the idea of a suburban animal guild for temperate climates such as central Oklahoma.  The yard is probably about 40x40 feet.  The area of any pond I would dig would be a surface area in square feet, not acres.  Marginals would include cattails and sunchokes.  Small water lilies and submerged aquatic plants for the pond.  A bottle of water harvested from a nearby pond or several too introduce plankton and maybe a few native pond plants.  "Quarantine" the pond a season before stocking to minimize adding diseases and parasites.  

Which adds the question of do caged quail drown in water dishes if precautions aren't taken because they are dumb because of domestication or because of lack of enrichment?  Since quail tend to make shallow nests in depressions, could I use terracotta plant saucers of the appropriate size to induce quail to nest where I want them to nest for easier egg collection or to do egg counts on meat birds?  Ideally, quail hens would raise quail chicks.  It can't be "impossible" for them or they would have gone extinct before people could ever have tried to domesticate them.  

I might be rambling...
 
Chris Bright
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http://jonahsaquarium.com/JonahSite/fishlist.htm has native North American fish for sale.  

Worms could be protected by building lined beds with something like 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth over the top.  Would need an access hatch for adding scraps, a section of large diameter PVC pipe would probably work.  Or a food grade bucket with a gamma lid.  Drill holes and sand edges for work access, unscrew lid to add scraps, put back on to protect them again.  

Could I modify the herbs spiral concept to make a series of pools?  The problem I had a few years back with an aquaponic system was that the pump was too strong for the fish I got.  The ones that didn't manage to jump right out of my system, that is.  A pond for pond based species, the pools for stream based species.  A sump to take overflow and siphon it back up to the top.  The only issue might be wintering the fish if the pools are shallow enough to freeze solid.  Insulation during construction, 3-5mil clear plastic covers during winter cold, deeper pools, combo of any two or all three?

I'd rather have a pond and pools filled with ornamental fish, if I have a choice.  The fact that frogs, dragonflies and birds would also enjoy it is definitely a plus.  I don't think fish eating birds would be much of a problem, especially if I add duckweed and/or pond lilies for fish cover.  Cat predation, however?  That might be an issue.  Especially since I'd want the water uncovered for aesthetic reasons.  
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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Bluegill are excellent for small ponds.  They will grow to pan size even in an aquarium!  I have some in my aquaponics system.  I used to have Fathead Minnows but I think the Bluegill ate them all.

The Bio-Integrated Farm by Shawn Jadrnicek has lots of ideas about how to incorporate ponds into growing systems including chicken systems.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote: protective devices for the Miniherds to keep them from the Chickens part of the time.


I am envisioning a new horror film, Chickens Attack the Miniherds, along the lines of


I love the idea of considering my pillbugs, earwigs, and worms Miniherds. :-)
 
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