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Critters in permaculture

 
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Also, a few other points:

What about all the non-food uses of animals? Wool, for instance. Is wool raising too inefficient a use of land compared to raising hemp or cotton? (I have no clue about this, I'd like to get some knowledgeable people to weight in.)

Ocean fish; of course they have been over-harvested of late. But I imagine that if coastal people lived mostly on seafood, and didn't ship much inland (the old norm) that would be sustainable. Many seafaring cultures lived heavily on the sea for generations without doing noticeable damage; it was only in the modern era that the fisheries started to crash.

Tyler mentioned that she gets quite a few meals from each chicken; I think this is another important point. Just about every part of an animal can and should be eaten; bone stocks, organ meat, etc. This is better for us and for the ecosystem.
 
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Wool, for instance. Is wool raising too inefficient a use of land compared to raising hemp or cotton?



This is going to depend DRASTICALLY on what part of the world you are in, how you feel about long distance shipping and labour issues, and what kind of method for raising these textile crops. (a good chunk of that will be cider press topic, but I think we can lightly touch on it here without getting into too much trouble)

Before I go into the depth of it, are we comparing modern day chemical methods to permaculture methods - or can we assume permaculture cotton to permaculture sheep and that kind of thing? I think if we put industrial agriculture into the comparison, we are going to majorly skew the results, so I recommend leaving that out of the equation and just focus on permaculture textile sources.


I've been really lucky the last few weeks to work with a friend of mine who wishes to extend her vegan values to her wardrobe - specifically the value of not harming animals. Not using leather or wool is pretty standard for a vegan, but she wants to go a lot further with it and avoid as much environmental harm as possible. I've been helping her brainstorm some ideas that match her values. If you have any ideas that would help, please join in the conversation.

The biggest problem we've found is that there are very few plant textiles that grow that far north that are also warm enough for winter. It's been a lot of fun thinking of ways around this and she hopes to have a fully transformed wardrobe by winter.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I'd think that we should compare permaculture sheep to permaculture flax or hemp. I've read your thread, and I couldn't think of anything to add. The warmth thing is a factor, but you could conceivably quilt or felt things, as they mentioned.

Does anyone have acreage figures for wool vs other textiles?
 
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My own view on this is the flipside to Gilbert's.

The question I ask is how much land and sea do the other 8.7 million species need to maintain their own evolutionary processes?

I think that once we have an answer to that question we can then start divvying up the rest for humans. The biologist E. O. Wilson has one answer to that question, even if I don't like some of his conclusions: https://permies.com/t/55801/books/Earth-Planet-Fight-Life-Edward Personally, I think half for us and half for everyone else has fairness issues, and goes back to a lot of questions about power and domination that are getting off topic.

As for fishing, there are records of herring shoals 8 miles (13km: this was prior to the metric system) long off the British coastline, being harried by a range of predators I've never seen. What many of us seem to forget when we talk about meat eating being "natural" is that this was before human numbers reached plague proportions. Depending on how you measure it, around 40% of those 7.4 billion humans lives near the coast - about three times the total human population when that was recorded.

I've tried to make the numbers add up, and can't do it. It's not just abut the deforestation: it's about all the other boundaries we're crossing (and, perhaps even more worryingly, the ones we can't quantify): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries Note that keeping "critters" (although I have views on such a demeaning term) impacts more than half of those boundaries (biochemical flows, freshwater use, land-system change, biospheric diversity and climate change).

EDIT: The current land footprint of the average human is 0.4 hectares, or about 1 acre, which is barely enough to graze one cow. Even so, as noted, we are crossing a lot of boundaries.
 
r ranson
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It's really not that simple, Gilbert.

Accurate figures are going to depend on location. Yield per acre of cotton in southern States is going to be infinitely greater than here (we grow none). Whereas I suspect we get a good deal more wool per acre then they do.

Another thing to calculate into is is the quality of life that the textile brings to the human, as well as the life expectancy of the textile. This is usually ignored in pure agricultural efficiency studies. So, linen generally lasts longer than cotton or hemp (generally, depends on many many things), but requires more labour to process than cotton and provides less warmth. But then again, needing 10+ cotton items for one linen item... that's just the start of how complex it can get.

Sheep raised in a permaculture setting, generally produce better quality wool (due to the choice of breed, the care, and variety of diet). If processed correctly, the wool garment can last as long as linen, but requires almost no washing. If not worn next to the skin (aka, with a linen layer next to the skin) wool might only need to be washed twice a year, whereas linen really needs a weekly wash when worn daily.

Care of the fabric, the needs it fulfills, it's life after being clothing, the repairability, the processing, and transportation ... I have yet to find a study that takes any of these into account when comparing yield per acre. Yet, these can have huge ecological impacts, far more worth considering than yield per acre.

The yield per acre often compare cotton grown in say India with wool grown in Spain. I find these comparisons useless, especially because they do it by weight of fibre - cotton and wool weigh very different amounts for the amount of cloth they can create.

Complicated.

Where I live, linen and sheep (together in rotation) make the most sense as I can create high-quality textiles that meet my needs for the least amount of clothing. Quilting to make the clothing warm enough adds to the amount of textile needed and land to grow it (you need twice the cloth plus filler, thus at least 4 times the land (filler takes more textile fibre than clothmaking does), not to mention the question of durability. Without the sheep, I would need to dedicate about ... roughly in my head... 2 to 5 times as much land dedicated to textile production to meet my families needs than with linen and sheep together.

Then again, in Japan sheep have almost no place in the textile production, cotton and hemp fulfill all the needs for that climate. Add sheep to the equation, and we would need far more land to meet the basic textile needs. It's far more efficient to grow textiles in Japan without including animals in the mix.


I'm not saying animals are required, or not required, but rather that there is a lot more to consider than most people generally imagine when it comes to textiles and their ecological demands.
 
Neil Layton
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R

You have touched on another of the ways we are dependent on hydrocarbons, and why it's so difficult to make the numbers add up. Toensmeier has a chapter on textiles.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Textiles are very complicated; so are other materials, such as metals and ceramics.

I'm going to start a new thread on foot print, since it is going to gum up this thread.
 
r ranson
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Textiles are very complicated; so are other materials, such as metals and ceramics.

I'm going to start a new thread on foot print, since it is going to gum up this thread.



there's one on textiles somewhere around here...
 
Neil Layton
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:

I'm going to start a new thread on foot print, since it is going to gum up this thread.



The question of footprint seems entirely germane to the question of keeping nonhuman animals.
 
r ranson
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Neil Layton wrote: The current land footprint of the average human is 0.4 hectares, or about 1 acre, which is barely enough to graze one cow.



In my locale it takes about 20 acres to graze one cow.

 
Tyler Ludens
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If people want to brush up on their ecological footprint: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/footprint_basics_overview/

"Our current global situation: Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year.

It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.

We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed."

 
Gilbert Fritz
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I've started the new thread on footprint (land area footprint, as opposed to carbon sink footprint; it would get too complicated otherwise.) The link is at the bottom of the post. I want to separate the two questions, since they are different but related. Regular visitors to permies may have noticed that I've been talking about a very complex topic in a whole bunch of threads on related questions; this helps things stay friendly and informative, in my opinion. But I may be wrong; if so, the moderators can merge them.

https://permies.com/t/56531/uf/foot-print-human#474658
 
Neil Layton
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I don't think it's possible to discuss the subject of keeping nonhuman animals without talking about the subject of footprint, for reasons I've already outlined.

EDIT: I do think it's important to have a separate and broader discussion about footprint, sustainability and regeneration, but to exclude it here seems to unreasonably restrict the discussion.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Back to the idea of an acre being able to graze one cow, one thing people don't talk about much is "carrying capacity" - how many animals can fit on a given piece of land without degrading it. This is not a static number, it can increase or decrease depending on management. But it is very important to understand at the beginning of an animal project if one doesn't intend to bring in feed from offsite and one does not intend to degrade the land. In some especially favored areas, one acre can support one 1000 pound cow (called an "Animal Unit") without degrading the land. As I mentioned in my locale only one animal unit can graze 20 acres without degrading the land. Many tracts of land around here have an even lower carrying capacity. The historical carrying capacity of the land in my area was 5 acres per animal unit. You can see how ranching has greatly diminished the carrying capacity.

Most people cram as many animals as they can on their place and then buy feed for them. This is not improving the carrying capacity.

There are many documents available online about how to estimate carrying capacity. Here's one for Arizona: http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1352.pdf

Carrying capacity does not take into account if the land is able to support other species besides the domestic animal units. It is only about forage and domestic animals, not about all the other ecosystem services needed from the land.

The idea of carrying capacity touches on Gilbert's question of footprint. If we calculate the land's carrying capacity - or footprint - for humans, are we also taking into account the need for the land to provide ecosystem services? We can't just shrug this off and say those services are being taken care of off in some nature preserve somewhere. Services such as local watershed and climate are just that, local.
 
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Thinking about textiles also makes me wonder about the other uses of animals, especially in a post-oil world. Cow can give leather, milk, meat, bones (both for stock and for garden minerals), and manure, and they also pull things. They are very multi-purpose. Now, sure, we can use a tractor to pull, but oil is not renewable. We could use a solar-powered tractor, but how many calories and resources go into making that solar-powered tractor vs going into a cow/ox? And, sure, we could pull things ourselves, but trying to carry that much food to market is difficult, just as hauling trees as one person or a group of people is difficult. And, if a person/group of people is hauling it, they need calories, just as the cow does. My mind boggles at the math included in this, especially when looking at it over various different regions. So, perhaps it makes sense for community to share a small herd of cows, perhaps with one person managing them and rotating them through various pastures, selling the milk and meat, and renting out the cow/ox for labor. Perhaps that would take less calories and resources than the building and shipping of a tractor as well as the growing of the food and minerals and compost you could get from the cows?

Another case study is a duck. It eats the slugs and bugs that I would otherwise be spending calories hunting and stabbing to protect my garden bed, or applying things that are not sourced locally (like sluggo and coffee grounds, that use a lot of calories/energy and resources to get here). They make my work a lot easier, and they eat things that I cannot. Perhaps this allows me to end up with more total calories for humans than if I did not keep ducks? In addition, they provide: cooking fat, bones (stock, garden minerals), manure, eggs, and feathers for down (and arrows). Now, I guess for their slug-eating benefits, I could just manage them and then let nature's predators eat them, which would mirror the normal carrying capacity and predator-prey relationship in nature. I just don't know!

The topic of critters in permaculture really is fascinating and multi-faceted. So far, at least, it looks like we need to examine not just calories from meat vs plants, but also calories to pull things, calories to remove pests, calories to create textiles, and local variations (local=good, but some plant fats and textiles cannot be grown locally but the animal sources can be), as well as what people need to eat to be healthy (I honestly do really porely on a low-animal protein diet. Auto-immune stuff pops up, I am cranky, I am weak, I'm anemic--even when taking supplements and eating various plant sources of nutirents...and how many calories does it take to make and ship those vitamins...not to mention there's a lot of studies about the need of animal products at least when a woman is producing a child--and though we do have overpopulation, we can't just ALL stop having kids, unless we want the human race to die out...but that's an entirely different can of worms!)

My mind boggles!

 
Tyler Ludens
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Nicole Alderman wrote:the slugs and bugs that I would otherwise be spending calories hunting and stabbing to protect my garden bed



Kind of fussy to prepare: http://feralfood.blogspot.com/2009/12/for-sarah-and-anybody-else-who-is.html

http://www.eattheweeds.com/are-slugs-edible-what-about-snails-2/

etc..

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Nicole, great points.

Larger animals in traditional societies, whether wild or domestic, tended to be community property; the English commons, the Native hunting ground. I think we need to go back to that pattern.

And yes, I think small animals can "stack" into a system to provide more total calories, but we need more experiments. Tyler's compost fed chickens didn't succeed, though it might have in a different iteration.

I think the biggest service animals provide is nutrient cycling; they prevent too many nutrients from being locked up in an ecosystem, and can help protect against fire by eating grass and brush.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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A community herd of horses or oxen would be a great model, if we can make it fit.
 
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I appreciate this discussion and everyone's input. I believe on many levels that animals belong in permaculture (and not just because I'm an omnivore). But many have hit on the reason beef and lamb (and game) were the predominant meats in early America (up to about WW2). When grain was planted and harvested by hand it was simply too valuable for direct consumption to be pumped through omnivorous pigs and chicken (much less ruminants).

On a personal note, my family and I eat small amounts of meat regularly, mostly hunted/fish plus home produced chicken and pork. We make full use of the animals and eat organs and make broth from the bones (what few scraps are left supplement the dogs' diet, along with roadkill and imported feed). The animals we raise arre not "sustainable" (their entire diets were not grown onsite in a way that was neutral or regenerative). I'm 1.5 years into managing about 2 acres of a much larger 80 ac property (incl almost 60 ac of timber). My hens are in tractors which are moved daily, they largely are fed on spent barley from the brewery where I work (which isn't sustainable, but I feel it would be unethical NOT to take advantage of this valuable waste stream). Our pigs were also largely fed on purchased, imported organic feed (though it was at least locally produced). This is not in line with our long-term goals but, as time and finances allow, we'd like to purchase electric fencing and establish better rotations and make better use of mast that is currently not being fully utilized as well as have the chickens work some new garden areas that can be used specifically to grow grain for them. I'm also in progress of installing almost 200 ft2 of sunken worm beds in the greenhouse under paths (ala Harvey Ussery) to provide protein supplement for the chickens. Long-term, we'll need to incorporate sheep or cattle to better utilize and improve our pastures. We don't yet produce our entire diet onsite either (but we're getting closer every year with corn, beans, squash, potatoes and a root cellar that will be finished this summer). I think all designs are a work in progress.

Cheers,
Kirk
 
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@ Tyler,

A possible example of a closed system is Paul Gautschi of the Back to Eden Organic Gardening Film and chickens. He has at least 30 chicken in a house and run setup. He feeds them solely with his kitchen, yard and garden waste and he gets fertilized eggs and compost that he cycles back to his garden.

Now Paul doesn't hatch the eggs as he doesn't want to deal with that many roosters and prefers getting chicks when he is low on hens and he does buy chick feed at that stage. However, if one decides to hatch their own chicks, I think one can use his model as a closed system.

Paul once had his friend's 53 adult sheep on his 1 1/4 acre pasture from June - October and they didn't get his grass down. The carrying capacity for his area is 5 sheep per acre. The pasture is downgrade from his orchard (has wood chip mulch as a cover) and garden (has compost as a cover) and is fed from them.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Maureen Njeri wrote:@ Tyler,

A possible example of a closed system is Paul Gautschi of the Back to Eden Organic Gardening Film and chickens. He has at least 30 chicken in a house and run setup. He feeds them solely with his kitchen, yard and garden waste and he gets fertilized eggs and compost that he cycles back to his garden.



As I understand it, Paul Gautschi is importing tons of wood chips to his system. If you import materials, it's not a closed system.

 
Maureen Njeri
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@ Tyler,


Yes, Paul does import wood chips. The wood chips generally go to the orchard, not the garden. I see the importation of wood chips as taking advantage of a waste stream that would otherwise probably go to a dump or landfill.

With regard to the garden, Paul puts a cover of compost on which he grows his vegetables. The veggies feed him and their waste goes to the chicken. The chicken eat some of this and aid in the composting of the rest. Outputs are eggs and compost. Eggs get eaten, compost goes back to the garden. Yard and kitchen waste also goes to the chicken.

I see this i.e. the chicken and the garden as a closed system. I am a newbie to permaculture and don't have a farming/agriculture background. Am I missing something?
 
Tyler Ludens
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To me it looks as though the entire Back to Eden gardening method relies on imported wood chips as the covering.

“No matter where you live, if you apply a covering to your garden, God will do the rest, and you will be blessed!” - Paul Gautschi

If Gautschi were not importing wood chips to his system, I might consider it mostly-sustainable, possibly nearly regenerative, though as I understand it he still does import a small amount of chicken feed for baby chicks and for winter.

http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/how-to-grow-an-organic-garden.html

http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/faqs.html
 
Maureen Njeri
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True, Paul does advocate for wood chips as a covering. He prefers them to other types he has tried (straw, grass clippings, leaves, manure, rock). My understanding of the basic premise of Back to Eden gardening is a covering for the soil. Covering does not necessarily equal wood chips.



Imported wood chips may not be viable in all situations and does not create the closed system as per your definition. I think that a covering in it's various forms from one's garden may be obtainable and aid in creating a closed system with animals that is abundant over the years. At least that is my hope for when I get my own land.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I agree. I think it would be very difficult to start a garden that was regenerative from the beginning, that is, begun with only seeds, no other outside inputs. But if permaculture can claim to be regenerative, producing more than it consumes, I think the goal is to stop importing materials as early as possible, and not base our systems on imported ingredients such as animal feed, or wood chips.

 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Maureen Njeri wrote:@ Tyler,

A possible example of a closed system is Paul Gautschi of the Back to Eden Organic Gardening Film and chickens. He has at least 30 chicken in a house and run setup. He feeds them solely with his kitchen, yard and garden waste and he gets fertilized eggs and compost that he cycles back to his garden.



As I understand it, Paul Gautschi is importing tons of wood chips to his system. If you import materials, it's not a closed system.


That's the initial impression yes, but in digging deeper [there is a ton of stuff of him on youtube recorded by someone very interested in the system] you learn that Paul's imports go down over time. He's presently something like 10 years since his last import.

Essentially he used imports to feed the soil food web and get it going strong. Eventually with an overstory it reaches the point where the trees are feeding the soil and imports are no longer required.

It's an import-to-establish closed loop so far as I can tell, though I could be mistaken.

RE: Chick Starter: there's certainly research to be done on appropriate feeds for baby chicks. In theory breeding several types of bugs should be able to provide the requisite protein and minerals but this field hasn't really been explored.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I never use chick starter. I feed mine buckets of garden soil with bugs, worms from my worm bin, BSF larvae, and (still, because my system isn't yet robust) mixed bird seed.

 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I never use chick starter. I feed mine buckets of garden soil with bugs, worms from my worm bin, BSF larvae, and (still, because my system isn't yet robust) mixed bird seed.


Very cool! Thanks for the tip Tyler, much appreciated. I need to get a worm and BSF system started... I don't think the BSFs are active in the wild for most of the year here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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BSF larvae can be frozen to death and then dried for storage, or just stored frozen for winter use. Or possibly kept going in a greenhouse in cold climates? I think there's a lot to be learned about raising various buglike critters for chicken and fish food.
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:BSF larvae can be frozen to death and then dried for storage, or just stored frozen for winter use. Or possibly kept going in a greenhouse in cold climates? I think there's a lot to be learned about raising various buglike critters for chicken and fish food.


I'm sure the same goes for many such invertebrates. Though somehow I get the impression roaches just might survive being straight frozen, go into dormancy and awaken when they thaw out [But obviously not freezing and dehydrating.]

The one such creature that interests me the most is the Grasshopper, since such a large component of its diet is straight carbon, the lignus type material found in the stems of grasses. Trying to find a retailer in the US is tough though, and they aren't allowed to ship across state lines IIRC. [Yes termites feed primarily on carbon as well, but they have too high a fat content in their body to be the 'primary food' so far as I've read. Great supplement though.]
 
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The links posted about closed loop systems for rabbits was broken. I think most of the info can be found here.
 
Cj Sloane
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Also, I started a post about my plans to get off store bought feed here.
 
You showed up just in time for the waffles! And this tiny ad:
WORK/TRADE OPPORTUNITY IN THE BEAUTIFUL SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS OF CALIFORNIA
https://permies.com/t/119378/WORK-TRADE-OPPORTUNITY-BEAUTIFUL-SANTA
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