Something I've been noticing and thinking about recently is the natural movement and roles of critters in our evolving permaculture landscape. The homestead is starting to feel a bit like an ecosystem. By that I mean that after being here more than a year I'm starting to feel more at home. I've had time to settle in, observe, think, and participate. As I slowly design and work the site I continue to learn not just about the energy flows such as water, wind and sun but also the energy and work of the critters as they do their thing.
The chickens have been here for four or so months and now that I'm down to 15 in the main flock they are much more manageable. Three more (fairly aggressive roosters) are currently in a chicken tractor and will remain until we butcher them. The main flock is released to mostly free range from noon till sunset. I have a few strategically placed fences that don't enclose them but encourage them to stay in certain areas and out of others. By 5 or 6 pm they have moved beyond my barriers and can be found anywhere and everywhere. Once the main chicken run has had time to recover I'll put them in there 3-4 days a week. But I prefer to have them integrated. I want integration. I like to look out and see them taking a drink from the little water garden. The squash they tend to get into also happens to be free of squash bugs whereas the other patch has had gobs of squash bugs. It's a balance.
As I've commented before the guineas are my favorite. While I may not get many eggs from them they are constantly on bug patrol and while doing so they leave their manure but NEVER disrupt mulch or my plants. If it works out that I can keep track of their eggs then that will be a great bonus.
We've also got a Canadian Goose that has been visiting most of the day for the past week or so. She's made herself right at home with the chickens and seems to enjoy hanging out by the water garden and around my cabin. Fine by me! She eats alot of grass and when she's not eating she's preening herself which means she's leaving little feathers here and there as well as a bit of manure. As with all of the above, she belongs here. She fits. She does her work and leaves behind her nitrogen rich soil amendments. It's got me thinking about the possibilities of keeping ducks or geese. Will need to investigate that a bit further.
Last but not least is Petunia who has gotten her freedom this week. She comes and goes as she pleases and is being weaned off of the bottle this and next week. It has only been a couple days but she seems comfortable as she cautiously explores the area a few hours at a time. Before long she'll be spending more time away than here and eventually I expect that her visits will become the exception to the rule. Having raised her I feel pretty confident that I can take care of a goat or two and will be doing a good bit of further research on that. One thing I want to get started on a year in advance of any goat keeping would be planning proper goat forage. As with the chickens it makes more sense to grow the food on site rather than spend money and waste energy importing it from feed stores. Actually, that's something I'll need to work on for the chickens as well. I've got a list of things I want to get planted, mostly perennials that should help out. We've also got gobs of honey locust trees so I'll be harvesting those seed pods soon and will be feeding that as a supplement over the winter.
The more I think about it the more I realize that what I'm doing here is trying to create a natural forage system for all of us that live on the site. I suppose that's the whole point isn't it? To create a perennial system that feels and functions like a natural ecosystem. Such a system, once "established," does not require gardening so much as harvesting which means less input of time, energy and money.