Animals in Natural Farming
Love and Care of Creatures Large & Small
I love ducks. They get ecstatically happy when it rains. They love to eat slugs and snails which makes me ecstatically happy. One property we lived on had a small stream behind the house with a small bridge. The ducks mostly hung out near the stream and liked to stand on the bridge. That means there was often duck droppings on the bridge. In those days we only had three ducks and the kids liked to call them Huey Dewy and Louie from the Donald Duck cartoon.
One day I noticed one of the ducks was eating a slug that, in turn, was eating the duck droppings. Here was a microcosm of the circle of life. It was a small but profound insight.
Natural Farming works with the inclusion of animals. The ethics of Natural Farming is to offer animals food, shelter, comfort and happiness with the same level of concern given your own children. Animals are nurtured and deeply loved. My kids were fond of the ducks. As toddlers they could pick them up. The ducks would not let anyone else come close or they would fly away. The boys and the ducks had a special relationship.
You can be an ethical vegan and practice Natural Farming. Even if large animals are not kept, small ones, such as worms and black soldier flies, are integrated into the Natural System. A big part of what animals do is keep organic matter cycling in the system. Food becomes manure becomes food. (Remember my ducks Huey Dewy and Louie?) We want to honor the sanctity of life for all organisms, plants, animals and microbes.
NATURAL CARE & FEEDING
In Natural Farming animals are fed Natural diets, ideally with everything coming from on-site. It is possible to raise animals without buying any feed, which of course is the ideal. Animal are given Indigenous Microorganisms IMO in their feed and are kept on bedding that has also been inoculated with IMO. The high levels of healthy microbes from the IMO in their feed and bedding means that pests and disease find it difficult or impossible to become established.
Almost all animal disease can be prevented. The microbes ensure the animals have a healthy gut system and the waste they produce is quickly composted. Nothing is wasted. All organic matter is cycled through the system from plants to animals and back again. And every time organic matter cycles through the system you have even more deep, rich, healthy soil, a more robust ecosystem, and pests and parasites have a harder time getting established.
Animals are feed about an hour before sunset. This corresponds with the most predominate pattern of eating in the animal kingdom. It also ensures that everyone comes home to roost so they can be secured overnight. I would let my chickens free roam in the late afternoon while I could keep an eye on them. If they know dinner is close at hand they stay close and are very excited to go back into the roost to be safe for the night. This means we never had to do chicken rodeo in the dark.
Deep litter bedding inoculated with IMO (Inoculated Deep Litter System IDLS*) means you will have no smell and no flies, even for pigs. Deep living bedding means the manures and unconsumed feed are composted almost instantaneous. The manure and any uneaten food is consumed by the microbes. The microbial activity is so high that the ground underneath the bedding will be dry and smell slightly like bread yeast.
The dry bedding makes a perfect dust bath for chickens & pigs. Pigs are offered logs beneath the bedding so that they can root and sharpen their tusks, honoring the “pig-ness of the pig.” Everything is done in order to provide each animal with an environment that lets them express the fullness of what they are –rather than cater to the needs and convenience of people. Happy healthy animals do not smell and are not noisy. These deep litter animal systems mean compost hauling & turning is not necessary, no stalls need to be mucked out, and fully composted organic matter is always available. Simply feed the animals once a day and feed the composting floor more organic matter about once a month.
Animals are kept in shelters with adequate ventilation and sunlight. The shelter should offer 70% shade, 30% sun, with sunlight ideally reaching every part of the barn or stall floor at some time during the day. Keep in mind this is a living floor and benefits from direct sunlight. In a specifically constructed barn, and with deep litter IMO bedding, animals in temperate and tropical climates can be kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer without any additional heating or cooling systems. Furthermore, IMO bedding is warm enough to brood baby chicks without brooding hens or heat appliances.
SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIPS WITH ANIMALS
Animals are rewarding to the soul to work with. Using Natural Farming techniques utilizing animals can reduce labor overall. Composting is labor intensive. Weeding is labor intensive, and tools can be expensive. Animals can do the work for you. They can lessen your burden of labor, not by working for you, but by doing what they do naturally.
Chickens and pigs are the ultimate homestead companions. They are easy to care for. They are, like humans, opportunistic omnivores, making them easy to feed. They can be fed all manner of scrapes from the kitchen and yard. They are the ultimate compost companions. Besides processing organic matter and providing nutritional compost for plants, animals fill many niches on the farm.
Animals can graze down weeds so you don’t have to. They can actively eat and eliminate pests. Remember how my ducks eat snails and slugs? Browsers and grazers all have different teeth and prefer different plants. Different species can be used together to reclaim, improve, and maintain the local ecosystem, each type of animal working on a different problem/resource. The pasture can become a prairie.
Grass is mostly cellulose which cannot be digested by people, and in fact most animals. Therefore grass is completely void of nutrition for us directly. However, grazing animals are able to digest cellulose. With the symbiotic use of grazing animals, grass can become high quality food and fiber from an otherwise useless (and often problematic) resource. Grazed properly the ecosystem improves. Grazing animals not only spread manure and prune the grasses, which increases growth, it appears that bacteria in the mouths of these animals also enhance grass growth.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms calls himself a grass farmer. Joel will run cattle through a field. They leave lots of cow pies, which attracts flies. So what he does is figure out how many days it takes for the flies to mature and hatch out to reproduce. After the fly grubs have grown fat on the cow manure, but before they hatch out, he sends in his flocks of chickens. Perfect timing.
The chickens get a lot of free fly grubs and prevent fly problems for cattle and people. They also provide meat and eggs. Joel Salatin has had to raise his fences because his rotational system has created so much topsoil his fences were being buried. Pigs can be rotated though fields as well, but they will be rooting for worms and become natural rototillers. Their pointy hooves can be used to seal natural ponds. Animals, just by being themselves, can be helpful in so many ways.
The Regenerative Agriculture sector is actively working to improve degraded ecosystems with animals and are reporting successes. Silvopasture integrates trees, forage, and animals, has been successfully demonstrated by Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm in Wisconsin, where Mark commercially grows a no-till perennial operation. In addition to his main crops, chestnuts, hazelnuts and apples, he grows many other fruit and vegetables in conjunction with animals such as cattle, pigs, lamb, chickens and turkeys. He is demonstrating that the destructive systems of growing vast acreage to grow soybean and corn to feed cattle in CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) feed lots is not necessary. It can be done profitably, can benefit the environment rather than harming it, and livestock can lead a quality, stress free life.
Here in the South Pacific cattle are allowed to roam below the coconut trees. This provides the copra (coconut) industry with the side product of grass-fed beef. The cattle are not fed anything but the natural fodder they graze. This all natural grass-fed beef is highly sought after and is one of the largest exports in the country. Millions of dollars are being made by turning a problem (weeds in the coconut groves), into a healthy food (all natural grass-fed beef), with no feed costs and no waste or runoff produced. The coconut trees benefit not only from weed control, but are fertilized by the cattle manure.
To do this artificially (without animals) would require machinery, labor, petroleum & chemicals to remove the weeds. Chopped and fallen weeds, toxic from the herbicides, would become a waste stream, and here weeds are typically burned off into the atmosphere, polluting the air and loosing carbon. The herbicides would affect the coconut trees. Soil microbes would be killed. The trees would become much more susceptible to pests and disease, requiring the labor and expense of pesticides. It would also require the labor and expense of applying fertilizers, which is lost by removing the cattle and their manure.
Animals, even often misaligned cattle, can make an ecosystem better than it would be without them, when they are treated properly and used correctly. Animals can improve the environment. It should be clear in this case that using cattle in coconut groves is better than typical modern solutions of toxic herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, machinery, and labor. It should also be clear that using cattle in this matter sequesters carbon, by increasing the biomass and soil organic matter, which are carbon based, and eliminating the need to burn off weeds, which puts the carbon directly into the atmosphere. The animals in this Natural system roam freely. They live good lives with safety and plenty of food.
The above example, as well as the systems developed by regenerative farmers such as Joel Salatin and Mark Shepard, also shows that meat can be produced without using CAFO feedlots. CAFOs are torture compounds, prisons. No animal should be kept in overcrowded conditions, wallowing in filth, and fed unhealthy, unnatural diets, pumped with growth hormones antibiotics and other chemicals, treated as nothing more than a widget to make a profit. They produce large volumes of toxic waste and sick animals which are sold at a profit as “food.” These types of animal operations are evil. In these places the sanctity of life means nothing.
When the motive is Love, not profit, animals can be raised in a safe and comfortable natural environment, they can improve ecology by being part of the system. We can share a symbiotic relationship with animals so that they live a better, stress free life, with safety, food and shelter at all times. Love, stewardship, and symbiotic relationships is how Natural Farming approaches animals.
Animals of difference species can form relationships with each other. They can be used to protect each other. Dogs, donkeys, llamas, even geese can be used to protect livestock, poultry, and people. There are countless ways to include animals in our backyards and in our fields. This may be as simple as feeding wild birds or providing bird houses and water baths for them. It may be the addition of pollen rich plant species to provide for the bees. The more diversity and life, including animals, the better and healthier your home ecosystem is, the healthier the plant will be.
At the end of the day I really enjoy the camaraderie with animals on a daily basis, both domestic and wild. Developing your home environment to be animal friendly is not just good for domestic animals, it provides for wildlife as well. Currently two of my best friends are the flycatcher that snatches flies from around my kitchen, and the bright metallic blue kingfisher that laughs and hunts centipedes and worms from the tree next to the house.
Try Natural Farming. Be like Nature.