This week the mission is integrating an animal species into the property design. While animals aren’t necessary for a functional permaculture design, they sure come in handy. We already have chickens on the property and we keep bees in the summer (though I have serious Alaska bee guilt, so who knows how long we’ll keep that going…), but I really want a ruminant. More stomachs, more fun, right?
Last year I started spinning and dyeing wool, and I’ve been jonesing for some sheep. They’re just so darn cute, and there are quite a few Alaska-hardy breeds that local folks keep successfully. And of course, the dog needs something to do. However, I got some pushback from the other human member of the household, due to what I believe is not a completely irrational fear that a few sheep will become many sheep and they will eat us out of house and home. I would rather make room for the overflow in the house than slaughter my squishy walking love ottomans.
But you know what also can produce fiber, and I don’t have an unreasonable emotional attachment to (yet), goats! Ever since we started buying goat milk from a local producer here in town, and making all the goodies that come along with it (yogurt, cheese), we’ve been idly thinking about adding a few milk goats to our little farmstead. Many folks keep goats around here, and certain breeds seem to stand out in popularity like the Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian and Alpine (all good milk-producers). Boers are popular for meat. A handful of folks keep Angora goats, which are known for their luxurious fiber. Every once in a while I see a cross between a Nigerian Dwarf and Angora – a “Nigora” – and my heart skips a beat. A milk and fiber producer in one adorable package?! Sold.
But how would the goats fit into a permaculture design? It would be nice to feed the animals with plants that grow on the property, because feeding livestock in Alaska ain’t cheap. They are also spectacular land clearers. When I lived in Santa Barbara, California, there was a company that would take their herd of 20 or so goats out to highway medians, parks, anywhere they were needed, and set them loose in mobile electric fencing. The goats got fed and the grass got mowed, with minimal fossil fuel use. I am planning to maintain a large cleared area on the property to be used as a dog Agility yard, frisbee-playing space, and trailer backing up zone, and could use a natural lawn mower. While they eat, they turn the soil (with hooves) and fertilize it (with poos).
Unlike sheep – who are grazers and focus solely on grasses – goats are browsers who (like moose) scrape the bark off of trees and eat small shrubbery. This makes them very useful for stripping bark off firewood to speed up the wood curing process. They can also process tons of willow cuttings, which we have plenty of. Last year, when doing the first land clearing on the property in 5 years, hauled away over 5 20-foot flat-bed trailer loads of willow cuttings. I really should have kept them on site, but I have a feeling we’ll have plenty popping up again this year!They are also super fun to watch. Goats have lost of personality, and can be rather sociable with humans. I worked in a nature center as a youth, and there was a pygmy goat that would follow me around while I did my chores, just like a dog. He would even “fist bump” with his tiny little horns. I wanted to incorporate mobile electric fencing into my design, because keeping goats in one place too long can be disastrous, and I didn’t want to have permanent fencing in the “open field” area. There is already a barn and paddock on site (a previous owner kept horses), so I kept that as the locus of goat activity. The back half of the barn is a big stall, plenty to house a few goats. There is a big barn door leading directly into the paddock, for easy goat movement. A gate will be installed on the far side of the pen, which will lead out into the temporary fields. Firewood as it’s collected will be dumped into the two eastern fields to be stripped of bark and then bucked up and stacked int the nearby woodshed. I am contemplating installing a gate from the goat pen directly into the compost bins to ease goat and chicken waste deposits, but I’m unsure. The water for both chickens and goats (in the summer, if not over winter) will come from gutters installed on the barn roof that drain into a big rain barrel (blue dot on the map below). It would be nice to mount this high enough to gravity feed directly to the animals.When thinking about trying to align animal areas with appropriate zones, I found myself thinking in a circle. Zones were mapped due to current use patterns. Since use patterns will change with the addition of new, different garden spaces and animal areas, my zone mapping will definitely change. Thus, for me, having existing infrastructure to dictate where at least shelter, water and primary forage zone are, trying to fit my animal areas in zones correlating to how often they need care or attention simply doesn’t make sense. In addition to changing the barn area to a zone 1 or 2 (depending on whether I have to milk goats or not), I’ll be adding an entirely different garden area (in a currently Zone 4 area). I’ll have to completely re-do my Zone mapping when I look at the whole design at one time.