I have been learning a lot about permaculture during the last couple years, and lurking here taking in all the information I can. I have really started to realize the value of having animals in the system. Here is my problem. I am trying to figure out how to automate having animals as I am not living on site. We live in the city but have a jointly owned property a couple hours away that we spend our weekends at. We just got this property last fall.
Background on property:
If is about 160 acres with about 60 acres of forest (Mainly Poplar, and spruce with some pine, birch and lots of bushes in certain areas.) The other 90 acres are old hay fields and pasture for cattle. Currently we have someone renting some land to run cattle on it. The soil has a high clay content, especially in the pasture areas. These are the areas I would most like to help heal. I really don't have the resources for large scale escavation but I do have a 50 hp compact tractor with loader. (can also get access to tiller if needed) I hope to create some swales and would love to try to collect water for a pond but currently havce not as most of my time so far has just been cleaning up the junk on the land. We are in zone 2b in Central Alberta in Canada. I think the annual rainfall is around 20 inches but we get a lot of snow in the winter. The local farmers do not need irrigation because of the annual fall.
I guess my question for anyone is: How do you have animals (ie. chickens) when your not on site for about 5 of every 7 days. I see animal like chickens to be very important in help transforming land and balancing the eco-system. We have a lot of wild animals such as deer, Moose, coyote, etc. Would you recommend something like pigs as I think they can better fend for themselves with predators. I have been thinking that I could use a deer feeder for timed spray of feed to supplement the natural diet. My concern is mainly the safety of the animals. Also anyone with good examples of permaculture systems in a climate like this I would love to see links.
The examples of systems created by Sepp Holtzer and Geoff Lawton really inspire me to want to try and create something great. It would be great to have a system that mostly takes care of itself. With my current situation and all the land I have to work with excites me to so many possibilities. I hope that after a few years of helping to build a system on our land I can help others. Forums like this really bring like minds together and I hope to soon be more of giver and less take share my successes and failures.
** I did get an opportunity to tour the project that Paul, Sepp and so many others worked on in Dayton, MT. It was great, a very young system and it was great to talk to the people there about what they have already had to learn and adjust in the first few months. It is a very young system and I could already see how it was not only going to mature but change over time. That system is currently only 5-7 acres so it scared me a bit with how much work I have ahead of me. I guess I need to start small and expand, but I do think animals would help speed up the healing and changing on the land.
I talked with a sheep farmer who raised sheep free-range on his large property. He kept a Anatolian shepherd on the property to protect the sheep. He had an automatic dog feeder loaded with 50 or 100 pounds of food, and a huge watering device under a little shelter for the dog (I'd highly recommend against the galvanized ones use for livestock these days, gets tons of zinc into the water). For "harvesting" the farmer used a hunting rifle. He raised Jacob sheep for their durability and ability to forage for good.
To make sure the sheep don't wander off I'd probably have an auto-feeder set up with sheep treats and a big watering thing for them too. Animals stay near where their food and water is.
Chickens would be a bit of a pain to keep, they are very predator susceptible, so would need to be in an enclosed run/house. This would keep them from free-ranging and if their feeder or water malfunctioned or you got mice that dumped out all the feed or something like that, the chickens would die before your next visit.
Pigs would probably also do alright, but I don't have any experience with them. Some of the heirloom breeds are pretty good at foraging.
We have dogs who will protect the livestock however for extended gone periods like you're talking I would be concerned about not just wild predators but poachers. People come along and steal livestock when it is remote. Read about it in the paper.
Consider encouraging wild animals if there are some in your locale with an open hunting season. Here in my region of Texas we have open season on a lot of critters, so one could probably get something to eat most of the time. Wild animals raise themselves up without care.
It's my experience that all domesticated animals need human assistance periodically and not on schedule. When they need you, they need you RIGHT NOW. Sheep get caught in brush or fences and will die if unattended. Even a good guard dog can't untangle a sheep from a fence. Goats will escape. Cows will injure themselves or get sick.
Plants can take care of themselves (mostly). Domesticated animals cannot.
Attracting more wild game to your property isn't a bad idea though. They will thrive or die as they were intended to do, and without the hand of man. If your property is remote enough then there's probably already wild game there. Of course, in many regions, where there is wild game then there is unauthorized poachers. You can track the wild poacher by his spoor, usually crushed beer cans and empty shotgun cartridges.
honey bees would do just fine without your constant attention. fish. frogs. worms. not really the sorts of things that most folks would consider livestock, but maybe think of some critters that can take care of theyselves relatively well and then think about how such critters might benefit your operation.
This is one of those situations where bringing in additional people could make all the difference. You have 160 acres--is it possible you could find reliable people to stay on the land full time, tend livestock, engage in restorative projects (which could involve the livestock, like the mob grazing of Greg Judy) and share the bounty they are able to create with you?
I have relatives who have had a farm a couple of hours away that they mostly visit on weekends. For years they had the farmhouse divided in two, with a renter in one part. More recently they purpose built a small house on the property (reutilizing the stone foundation of a small barn) so that they could remodel the main house for grandchildren to visit. Anyway, if you can get lucky with a renter (they had a particular dude, a Ho-Chunk sharpshooter who really kept an eye on all of the property, for years and years) it can really improve your quality of life. On the other hand, bad things can happen with the wrong people. It's a dilemma, but worth considering.
If your land is remote, an ordinary renter is unlikely, but given the amount of land you have, there could be a couple of knowledgeable permaculturists who have the skills to make their own shelter and improve the land.