In any natural, stable and thriving ecosystem such as a forest or woodland, there is a diversity of trees, plants and animals. Without animals to process fruits and grass turning them into manure for the insects and other microbiology in the soil to break down, I am not sure how our forests would look. At Keela Yoga Farm we plan to replicate this sort of natural ecosystem with trees and plants that provide us with food and other resources, but also by integrating animals which will help stabilize the food forests and provide us with further resources.
One of the jobs that we have had to do time and time again at various permaculture farms, is clean the land of brambles, grass and weeds. We will manage these problems by rotational animal grazing rather than using machines and manpower. This in turn saves petrol on strimmers and countless man hours and at the same time makes these ‘problem’ plants and weeds useful as they feed the animals that then provide us with some resources.
Animals that we have:
Chickens – They snaffle up all of the bugs that ruin and destroy our veggie patches. They like to eat maggots in fruits too, so we will place them in and around our food forest to prevent fly infestations and turn over soil before planting vegetables. Currently we keep them in a chicken tractor at night and they free range finding their own food during the day. Chickens tend to scratch when looking for bugs in soils which is great when preparing soil for planting, but can damage an already existing veggie patch, so timing and placement is key. We feed them kitchen scraps and home grown grains which will then be turned into eggs, manure and meat. We got chickens in March 2017.
Goats – Goats are wonderful animals and most people have them on their farms in Portugal. They can help to clear shrubs, weeds and if you’re not careful, healthy trees too. They turn these into goat’s milk which makes the most wonderful cheese and of course meat as well if you want. We have two female goats who live in a stone animal house at night and roam different parts of our land in the day.
Ducks – Unlike chickens, they do not cause as much damage to the vegetable patch but have eaten a lot of our cabbages and they eat other food sources such as snails that chickens don’t eat and thus help give us all round protection from little critters that would like to eat our food. These guys also shed useful feathers and can produce delicious meat. We first kept our ducks near the house but there was no pond for them, we now have them in a lovely duck house at night and they free range around the lake during the day.
Worms – These are Invertebrate animals and they should be kept in every household. They quickly turn left over raw vegetables and fruits into rich soil and produce a liquid fertilizer called ‘Worm Tea’ for the gardens. Since we started keeping worms in a small container in our house in Singapore, we hardly sent anything to the landfill at all. The amount of worms double every six months and then can be used as a wonderful treat for plant beds to aerate the soil and for poultry to feast on. We have two worries, one we feed with food scraps and the other with our duck and goat shit
Cats – Cats help to keep mice and rat populations at bay. We have three kittens who are are about the size of a mouse.
Dogs – We will definitely need a couple of dogs to help protect and control our animals, and provide companionship to our family and community. But above all, they will act as an alarm for any intruders. These dogs will have thousands of square meters of land to live in and will be the happiest doggies in the world! We got two cute dogs in Jan 2017.
Animals that we don’t yet have:
Donkeys – They can eat a lot of grass and weeds and turn them into a lot of useful manure. The manure can help our compost piles breed the microorganisms we want in our soils. Donkeys can also be used to help with farm work and are wonderful companions. Due to the use of diesel engines and machinery on farms, there is little or no need for donkeys around the country with local farmers. This has resulted in a decrease in population which the government is trying to rectify. We plan to breed donkeys and hope to encourage others to do the same.
Geese – These birds also eat grass and act as a great alarm for any intruders due to making a lot of noise when they are disturbed, the best thing about them is that they do not touch any of our vegetables and are great poultry to keep in food forests. Their droppings which are made up from grass do not smell so much and they dont turn a nice grass area into mud.
Sheep – Another wonderful animal that can cause a lot less damage than goats and produces milk, cheese, lambs, wool for clothing or insulation and manure.
Pigs – Pigs eat anything from weeds and acorns to scrap food and turn it all into wonderful manure. Pigs can also be used to dig out deep roots of weeds by placing acorns and other nuts into the ground which they want to devour. They dig them up and make the ground ready to plant. We really want to avoid using machines to do the work when animals can do them naturally for us.
Rabbits – These animals can be put into large cages with no bottom. The cages can be moved regularly (much like a chicken tractor) and they eat up all the grass. This saves the need for a lawnmower and on the way they produce manure and feed the grass or plant beds for us.
Snails – There are two different types of snails: The type you don’t want in your garden and the type you or your ducks can eat! Well if you don’t want to eat them, you can feed them to the ducks.
Fish – Fish consume plants and other small aquatic life. They then deposit manure into the water, which when used for irrigation will provide nutrients to soils and plants. They can also then be fed to animals or back to us.
Cows – Cows are the ultimate manure machines. They can turn a lot of grass into valuable manure, milk, cheese and yoghurt. However I am not sure we will ever have such a large animal, at least not in the early days of Keela.
Being sustainable to us means growing our own food and buying locally and organically and reusing everything and making a big effort to create less waste. However, what we have found is that you can’t grow enough vegetables and leafy greens all year round to meet your nutritional requirements. Animal products may need to be added to our diets during the winter. Our only alternative is the unsustainable and less eco-friendly option, to ship in food from the other side of the world. Many studies have shown that consuming animal products on a daily basis in large quantities is not good for your health and definitely not good for the environment. Livestock require more water and land for every calorie than plants and many live in dire and unhygenic situations. However if we are raising the animals ourselves, we know what they are eating and that they have been treated well.
Unless you have a lot of land, starting with worms is the best way then maybe chickens. We will eventually have all these animals and integrate them into our food forests.