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Question for Graham - animals within a permaculture system

Posts: 94
Location: Las Vegas, NV
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1st of all my name is Enrique & we are doing some amazing things here in Las Vegas.

I work for a company that builds & cares for 77 gardens in schools (soon to be 100) . We are the 2nd fastest growing school garden system in the nation. The great thing is my boss helped found the local Permaculture group so she hired all her friends so we are really teaching permaculture to all these young fresh minds !! Also, I have a meeting thursday with the non profit that raises all the funds for the gardens & they'd like me to work thru our permaculture group to help high school students design their own garden Permaculture gardens & also have examples of permaculture design all over the campus.

Also, the local green community has adopted the school garden program & we are trying to raise it to the next level & are even moving to grow our own food commercially as there are farms here so the potential is there.

So my question has to do with using animals within a permaculture system. I know all about the benefits of chickens & their poop within a compost system & goats & grass etc ... I love these ideas but struggle with keeping these animals caged or separate so they don't mate but then I can't have so many babies as I won't eat them or give them away to be slaughtered. So I guess I'd like to know how you approach having animals within your permaculture design.
Posts: 27
Location: Essex, UK - Zone 8
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Hello there Enrique, sounds like a fantastic company you are working for, its brilliant that you are bringing green ideas, especially permaculture and food growing, to all those young minds by installing gardens in schools - keep up the good work!

In answer to your question, I would say (and this is only my own opinion, please make up your own mind) that, quite apart from the ethical issues, it is really not necessary to include animals (apart from those 'self-willed' creatures that would naturally pass through the system naturally of course, such as earthworms, wild birds, insects, wild bees, amphibians, etc) in a permaculture system, especially in community or school gardens where they can actually create alot of unnecessary work. Animals are a huge responsibility and need plenty of attention and care, whether it is buying in extra feed, making sure they are looked after properly (especially at times when the school or garden is closed), fencing them in properly, cleaning them out, monitoring for disease, fees for vets, obtaining licenses in some cases, protecting them from predators, and so on and so on. As you say, animal droppings and manure can provide nutrients to the system, but it is very easy to maintain and even build fertility without these using plant-based sources such as 'green manures' (in the UK these would include Nitrogen fixing plants such as vetches, clovers, tares, field beans, etc, as well as soil builders like grazing rye, phacelia, fenugreek, mustard, etc), deep rooted plants such as comfrey that bring up Potassium and other nutrients, as well as composting all garden and kitchen wastes and maybe even installing composting toilets to recycle human 'wastes' (an often overlooked urban resource!).

Animal- free permaculture systems can be far easier to maintain, especially in urban situations such as mine, and if something does go wrong with animals in the system the consequences can be far more serious. If I go away for a week or so and leave somebody in charge of watering the tomato plants in my garden in the hot weather and they forget to do it, the worst thing that can happen is I will come home to a few dead tomato plants. If they forgot to look after my chickens it would be horrendous!

At the end of the day only you can decide whether animals belong in the systems you are setting up, but they are certainly not necessary in my view. Good luck with all your projects, Graham
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I'm not vegan myself, and do keep animals in my permaculture systems, but I would second Graham's opinion that domesticated animals deliberately introduced to the system are not necessary for it to function well, and can add a lot of trouble, responsibility, and potential for disaster. I think a great opportunity for vegan permaculture designers who cannot/do not want to keep animals in their systems is to really focus on attracting and providing habitat for wild animals, small reptiles and amphibians, beneficial insects, etc. This has the additional benefit of being really fun for kids.

Gentle native bees such as mason bees or leafcutter bees might be a really cool project to look into for kids. The Crown Bees website (www.crownbees.com) has a lot of info on getting started and is a great source of bees and housing kits. These native bees are better pollinators than honeybees and are less likely to sting.

Butterfly gardens are also an easy sell to parents and kids and really gorgeous and fun.

Making a small frog/turtle pond or creating "toad villas" made from half-buried flowerpots turned on their sides was a fun project I did when I was a kid.

And of course birds (and even bats) make great sources of manure for the garden and can help with pest control, etc. if one attracts them via houses, bird baths, feeders/waterers, etc.

If you're on a scale where goats are desirable, deer fill much the same niche, as browsers, and can often be attracted even in urban settings.

If you can get enough wild creatures contributing to your gardens, you won't need domesticated animals to perform those ecosystem functions and it will free you of the need to worry about caging, fencing, predator protection, daily care, and more offspring than you can handle.

For my next feat, I will require a volunteer from the audience! Perhaps this tiny ad?
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