Continuing my notes on the book Introduction to Permaculture (1991/2009) by Bill Mollison, here is Chapter Seven: Animal Forage Systems and Aquaculture. (Intro and Chapter One) I am relying mainly on my sketchy notes here, without a book in hand to check quotes, accuracy, etc. (there is a version of the book online, with lots of illustrations by Reny Mia Slay). Any misrepresentations of Mollison’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Animal Forage Systems and Aquaculture
Note: Because I don’t keep farm animals, and don’t intend to, I more or less skimmed this chapter.
This chapter begins with one of Mollison’s famous quotes: “You don’t have a snail problem; you’ve got a duck deficiency!”
Mollison says that animals are essential to pest control and for the basic nutrient cycle of a farm [Will Bonsall, in his Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening, disputes this and is in fact the living proof that kept animals — versus wild ones, like bees and other insects, reptiles and amphibians, birds, etc. — actually aren’t necessary to an efficient large-scale gardening operation.]
Animals are an inefficient protein source but provide diverse products: manure, pollination, foraging (collecting dispersed materials), heat sources, gas producers, soil diggers (poultry and pigs especially), draft animals, “pioneers for clearing and manuring difficult areas before planting” (goats, pigs), pest control, cleansers for water (mussels). Vegetarians can use animals as providers of fibers, eggs, milk, manure-providers, and grazers for fire control.
Animals need the diversity and regularity of a free-range diet, not a concentrated one.
7.2 Zone 1 Animals
Animals near the house include: rabbits, pigeons, quail, guinea pigs, ducks, geese, and bees. Mollison provides a schematic of needs and products/functions of animals.
If I were going to have farm animals, I’d choose ducks (having seen them in action in real life in gardens and on farms, and based on what I’ve read about them):
“Ducks are excellent permaculture animals and have many advantages. They can be raised without elaborate housing, and will readily thrive on natural foods. They clean up waterways of green algae, water weeds, and tubers, at the same time fertilising watercourses which aids in fish and eel production. They eat insects, and slugs and snails in orchards and gardens, and because they do not scratch or eat mature greens, can be let into the garden at appropriate times to consume insects. Caution: they will destroy small plants with their feet; also some duck species (Muscovies) are vegetation eaters, although they confine themselves mainly to grasses. Because ducks do not scratch mulches, they can be ranged in mulched gardens and orchards.”
Geese are good weeders, herders, and guard animals.
Bees: “To keep bees on site all year round, a complete forage system must be planned for each month. However, flowering and yields of nectar varies greatly from year to year, depending upon weather conditions, so at times bees are fed sugar water or the hives are moved some miles away to another nectar source.”
7.3 Poultry Forage Systems (zone 2)
Chicken are scratchers. They eat insects, greens, and fallen fruit; they need protein (insects). Products are meat, eggs, feathers, manure. Mollison details plant species for their forage and household waste they can/should eat. He offers lots more detail on chicken-keeping than I took notes on.
7.4 Pig Forage Systems
Pigs are forest and marshland foragers. They graze, forage, and root, and they like to eat scraps. “Pigs are most cheaply kept where some dairy, orchard, root crop, or meat wastes are available,and do well on restaurant or household food scraps. Good range pasture is of legumes (clover, lucerne), comfrey, chicory, and young grasses. Pigs will eat 11 kg [24 lbs] wet weight of this material per day, and have larger appetites than confined pigs. They also need seed, fruit, or kernels.”
Pigs are beneficial in mature orchards but can destroy young trees. It takes 3-5 years to develop the full complement of free-range foods for pigs.
Pigs are good at preparing land for other uses: “In a large system, 20 pigs per 4000 square metres (1 acre) will plough by scratching and rooting the area for planting comfrey, sunroot, lucerne, chicory, and clover. It then needs to rest. Pigs will remove gorse, blackberries, and small shrubs. They can be followed by sowing to pasture, then cattle, then pigs again.”
Lots of illustrations provided in the pig section.
Much like pigs, goats are used to clear abandoned pasture for future planting. They are very destructive to cultivated plants and will debark trees. Goat husbandry in large numbers is incompatible with permaculture.
7.6 Pasture Crops and Large Animal Forage Systems
“Pasture crops and forage systems or cows and sheep are usually fairly extensive (8 hectares [almost 20 acres] or more will carry enough stock for a modest living, depending on suitable landscape and climate). Although much of the area is sown to grasses and legumes such clover, there is an emphasis on trees within the system” to feed animals in drought or when grass is sparse; to protect livestock from severe wind, snow, rain, and sun; to restore soil fertility through leaf litter and nitrogen-fixing legumes; to protect water catchment on slopes; and to prevent erosion.
Lots of illustrations and plant suggestions in the book.
Advantage of forest farming over pasture farming: “The goals of such pasture/forage tree systems is to constantly cycle nutrients from plants to animals and back to the soil via manures and nitrogen-fixing legumes, and to diversify farm products. Tree products such as carob and chestnut can also be more directly converted to sugars, fuels, food additives, flours, and so on. This is of great value when markets for wool, hides, and meat are in flux, and gives the forest farmer a very great advantage over the pasture only grower, who is tied to a single market or product.”
Animal association and interaction: Pigs and chickens should not mix (chickens can pass on TB to them, and to cattle). Ducks like to following behind rooting pigs. Outdoor cats are a definite disadvantage as they are destructive to small animals.
7.7 Aquaculture and Wetlands
Uses of a pond or lake: mirror, heat store, run-off area, pollutant cleanser, transport system, fire barrier, energy storage, recreation, part of an irrigation system.
Can raise, grow, or attract fish, crayfish, mollusks, waterfowl, water plants, edge plants, algae, frogs, insects. “We can design the system to make our main crops any of these: fish, water chestnut, wild rice, honey from marsh tupelo, bait fish, brine shrimp, freshwater snails, aquarium fish, water lilies as flowers or root sets, prawns, fish eggs, rushes or willows for basketry, fungi grown on rotting logs, and so on. All are ‘aquacultures.'”
Pond construction: have island refuges for waterfowl, and shallow shelves on edges
Pond depth and shape: the number of fish is related only to the surface area, not to the depth or volume, because the surface area controls the amount of the food supply. Usually ponds should be at least 2-2.5 meters deep [6-1/2 to 8 feet] so fish can get cool and escape birds. Regarding pond size, he says “We need not think pond cultures are suited only to the standard half-acre pond; there are some useful products from small to large ponds: l-2 square metres [about 10-20 square feet]: Domestic watercress, taro, water chestnut, and a few frogs for garden pest control. A rare waterlily, or a small breeding population of a rare fish or aquarium plant. 5-50 sq. metres [about 50-500 square feet]: A large range of plant foods, and at the upper pond size, enough carefully-selected fish for a family.” Above about 50 square meters you’re talking about a commercial breeding crop of plants or animals.
Mollison describes ponds in a series, ponds in parallel, or canalised ponds.
Beneficial aquatic polyculture: Plants (edible root species, floating aquatics, shallow edge plants, seepage edge plants) + invertebrates + fish + waterfowl.
Also sections on water quality and pond fertilisation, feeding fish, stocking the pond, and brackish or salt water ponds, including structures in mud flats or intertidal areas.
Next up, Chapter Eight: Urban & Community Strategies.
(* Featured photo is of aquaponics in a greenhouse at Paradise Lot in Holyoke, Massachusetts, taken in June 2016. Paradise Lot is (was) the home of permaculturists Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates and their families; Jonathan and his family moved in 2017 to a farm in Ithaca, NY.)