While controversial at times, I do whole heartedly believe that animal integration into Permaculture systems is integral for the overall system health. The great organic pioneer Sir William Howard said the following two things which gives credence to designing equitable, humane systems for animals to proliferate in permaculture designs:
“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.”
and “Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock”.
Thus we need to insert wildlife back into the system as much as possible,
whether that is domesticated stock that we sync more rhythmically, using the inherent pattern of migrating herds, or creating the appropriate habitat for wild animals. We must include insects into this rhythm as well and of course bees as their die off could spell doom to human race as the great channel that was Einstein said,
“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
Thus we must express the chickenness of the chicken and pigness of the pig as Joel Salatin preaches quite feverishly and for good reason. Our responsible integration and pattern application with animals is one of the most important roles of Permaculturists and obtaining a truly local food system again. So remember to create habitat, it saves the wildlife and gives livestock thriving lands. This notion, while simple, is still quite revolutionary and was the brilliant pattern recognition from the Father of Game Management: Aldo Leopold. For a great article understanding the rhythmic pattern that I have been speaking of, please and I ask sincerely, please read the following short essay, Thinking Like a Mountain from Leopold and his awe inspiring, thought provoking American literature classic, A Sand County Almanac.
As stated in the use of biological resources page, animals contribute to building long term natural capitol. They do heaps of work on the farm including pest control and fertilizing which are integral in many linking systems. They integrate well with food forests and can be layers in the space and time stacking that occurs there. They, when managed appropriately, help to build top soil and complete the hydrological cycle. While this sounds paradoxical, it has been long documented by pioneers like Allan Savoury, founder of Holistic Management, (HM) that animals can play significant roles in this and reversing desertification. It is through their edge creation with their hoof action that the crust of desertification is broken. They must be herded tightly as we embody work with nature not against it. To leave drylands that are badly damaged to lay fallow is the opposite and with our pattern eye we can turn things around.
Schools of fish inherently are protected through this concentration and shape just as the large flocks of birds. The great herds of the plains are no different but somehow in our usage of livestock we forgot this simple pattern. It is our role as stewards, just as Leopold suggest, to mimic the grazing pattern of those who
have the pressures of predation still present. This predation factor normally makes animals stay tight, schooling so to speak, and on the move. This lessens the risk of easy predation, picking up diseases, and inherently they know as sentient beings that everything gardens. They know to use animal impact, while it seems violent on the land, the subsequent rest does not let overgrazing to occur. And undergrazing can be just as cancerous to the system so it is our role to use this same animal impact for system betterment and braodacre land healing. It is no mistake that the largest reserve of top soil, stored, stable carbon on planet earth was the great prairies that once covered vast ranges of North America. It was through the creative interaction of Native Americans, bison, fire, and predators that this bank built huge reserves. Those reserves are being exhausted exponentially, a rate which is unsustainable and might just be the greatest environmental catastrophe of the planet: the Midwest of North America. The sprays, the ploughs, the fertilizers are not the least change for the greatest affect that once was and can be again. This extensive use of resources is the contrary and it is our pattern eye and application that reverses such needless damage. To grow grain for the feeding of animals, especially ruminants, is asinine to say the least. When I advocate for animal systems I, again, am calling for stewards to grow luscious swards of grass, diverse food forests full of falling fruits and nuts, and giving animals the best treatment possible. This has nothing to do with the industrial system which is vile and has no justification other than greed and fear. We rather embrace love and feeling all the while building natural capital.
Soil, water, trees, earthworks, animals
The inextricable link between the first four is quite common in Permaculture systems. Dig some swales, plant some trees, mulch and lay compost, and supplement water in dry spells. Maybe greywater gets cycled in there somehow, ponds built, terrace walls laid, and compost tea sprayed. I would like to insert one more element to support the overall function of site abundance: animals.
Having managed numerous sites with and without animals, it is indeed a different atmosphere. Especially in areas devoid of wildlife, something feels awry for me since my upbringing in the eastern deciduous forest of the USA made me think that wildlife must proliferate everywhere if it does so easily amongst this suburban development. But indeed it is not true and we have the option of inserting animals into the farm to cycle energy and maximize yields from this energy conversion. Pedro Valdiju, fellow compatriot in TreeYo permaculture over many years, compares Permaculture and its practice and learning as a symphony. We are merely the maestro and orchestrating the interconnections stems from the design science itself. The management transcends this mere theory and with a continued observation and use of biological resources we are sure to build natural capitol. For example, Semilla Besada in Southern Spain has proven the link between HM and Permaculture as a great combination in drylands areas. Our lush growth of the year can be cycled into concentrated nutrients and distributed abundantly through animals manures. Their outputs can be put into compost piles, placed around fruit trees and even dug into beds. They eat grass, herbs or brambles and save us from chop and drop routines which can be tedious on bigger sites.
My intimate connection with animal integration systems really hit home with my work at Edible Tree Crop Farm in 2006-07. Dick Roberts had famously put dense herds of sheep under his broadacre food forest that was inspired by J. Russell Smith’s work, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. This site was one of
the sites that Bill and David went to hatch the idea as it was planted out in the 60’s. It is number 99 in the Designers Manual middle section with colored pics. Dick’s work with converting a degraded land with invasives abounding is a great inspiration that animals and humans can co-creatively build a site of abundance. He worked with nature, not against by using gorse as mulch and harnessing the regenerative properties of pioneer species and the nitrogen fixation they employ to accelerate succession and evolution. Furthermore, his wisdom included putting barrels (55 gallon or 220 L) around the the tree crops so that the sheep could not harm the young trees innately known from a simple functional analysis. By time I arrived there it was a nearly 40 year old food forest, integrated animal agroforestry system which I highly encourage.
Keyline is often a precursor to animal systems being developed on new sites to repair the legacy from past farmers extracting resources of soil, water and biodiversity within the grasslands and forests. These mini earthworks are very potent at turning around degraded sites and the whole system with ponds and flood irrigation breaks the brittleness scale of the drylands. When this is combined with compost tea, rotational grazing, and appropriate tree crop and windbreak and riparian buffers, ecosystems flourish immediately and vast stores of carbon are sequestered.