18 January, 2010

Opticulture Is Much Better.

Happy Happy Joy Joy.  Compare and contrast with the previous post... Discuss.  This time, an observation or three on the aforementioned Ian Hamilton's permaculture farm.  Because, admirable as it looks, there are a few principles I can't agree with.

I mentioned the sheepdog.  SheepdogS, sorry.  As I've said, a dog is a large price to pay for a few sheep.  Permaculture says that you should A) get the sheep used to routine, feed them something in a permanently fixed spot.  No need for a sheepdog then, the smarter sheep will lead the slower ones to that spot every time, and you've saved yourself and the environment the cost of feeding and vetcare for two dogs.

And B), have your farm designed with sheep herding in mind for those times when you need to, so that one or two people can do the job instead. Have brakes and hedges to guide them.  Use the natural contours.  Observe (first principle remember?) the sheep and see if you can't devise a third way to corral them.  Some very good work being done in another endeavour altogether has a huge hint:

The project in question uses RFID tags on sheep and lambs, and a gate which funnels sheep as they flock in every evening to go to the watering trough, at which time the RFID reader reads which lambs are near which ewes and thus the farmer knows which lambs came from which ewes.  But did you observe the important part of that?  "they flock in every evening to go to the watering trough..."  Design in fixed water supplies for the sheep and you know where they'll be every evening.  Fence those supplies with only one or two exits and you don't have to herd sheep at all.

Then there are those cattle.  Big, expensive to feed in terms of land use, and unless you're feeding them high value feeds and breeding the hell out of them, ultimately useless outside of a glass and a half of milk... They're just an excuse to have a cattle dog and cattle yards and pens.

Chickens.  Used for tractoring the fields?  Not really, on Ian's farm.  Just kind of free range and - useless because of that.  Eggs and the odd roasting chicken aren't what having chickens is all about.

Better animals and uses of existing animals:  Get rid of the sheep.  Alpacas have better wool, and thrive on much less feed.  They also deter foxes with extreme prejudice.  Keep one cow and a calf, if you must, for milk.  Although, a herd of goats eats less, provides a better quality milk, and is easy to train - goats will come in of their own accord to be milked.  Put your chickens in restricting enclosures, such as a portable run for tractoring garden and vegetable beds.  Provide them a portable coop to go rost in and lay eggs in, put it wherever you've confined the chooks.

If you need something other than goat and chicken, get a few rabbits.  They're up to 12 times more efficient at converting feed into meat protein than cows are.  You get more kilos of meat per ton of hay and green feed than you would with cattle.

The ducks.  Part of permaculture is water use overloading.  (A programming term, it refers to using something more than once, for more than one purpose, loading" more functions onto something.)  The water that comes down for free from the sky, you need to use that.  And the water that you've collected in that way, and then used to wash, that needs to be collected again and used again.

Shallow tanks or ponds are ideal for reclaiming this grey water, and the ducks are a part of that recycling system.  Their wastes feed algae and plants in the water, which in turn filter out your detergent and other residues.  The algae can also feed fresh water lobsters.

The partly cleaned water can then be moved to a settling pond for use in irrigation.  I didn't actually see any water recovery facilities, and of course each one should have also had a redundant alternative.  Other riparian birds such as geese and other waterfowl would help balance the system out more.  Fish are good as indicators of water health, and add a lot of nutrient to it before using it for irrigation.

So.  There are dozens of things not touched on, in that farm. For instance - where does the dogfood come from?  Seeds for replanting?  How much fuel is spent in cutting and neatly baling up hay every season?  (I noticed a lot of bales around, is why I'm wondering about that.)  do the cattle need supplementary feeds?  I imagine they do, and if you're not growing it on site then it too has to be brought in.  Is Ian growing the wheat for the chickens on site or bringing that in?

I didn't see a compost pile in that first video - is there one, or preferably a series of them?  Is animal waste being controlled or left wherever it lies?  (The reason is that if you bring all the waste together in one spot, you're more likely to attract dung beetles - and they cure your fly problems which uncontrolled crap always breed.)

Here, too, alpacas prove themselves better than sheep, because they neatly deposit the entire herds' worth of manure in one area they decide is going to become their toilet area, making it easy to control.  Restricting chickens also restricts their manure, and similarly a well designed area around the water treatment ponds will keep the ducks crapping in one place rather than all over the place.

And of course all that manure is a great starting point for compost heaps, especially if you have all the waste hay from the cattle as well, and the green wastes from growing and harvesting, and preparing produce in the processing kitchen.

That's why I love permaculture - everything has a value.  Your job is to find that value, see how nature deals with extracting that value out of that thing, and then designing systems that duplicate nature.


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1 comment:

Von said...

Couldn't agree more!!!Great post again!You didn't mention the damage the sheep and cattle do to the land either.Compacting the soil,cutting grooves with their hoofs which cause water run-off and erosion.
Sheep aren't as stupid as people make out, they can be trained and got into useful habits making dogs unnecessary.Once dogs they were fed on roos and dead sheep, so making them free to keep.These days I think they're sometimes keep for their guard dog habits mainly.
One a Permie system is in operation it should flow smoothly with multi-use factored in.Geese fit in really well for me as I use the bedding straw for mulch and compost,never buy anything extra.The dam water is of course from the sky and the bore water for their drinking is put on the garden after use.I trade their eggs,excess birds and the flock keep down grass and weeds,pests etc.Win..win.

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