Part of the whole
PUBLISHED: 10:47 15 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:21 15 June 2017
Julie Moore continues her exploration of the permaculture approach to keeping chickens
Have you ever stopped to think about the processes and resources needed to boil an egg? By thinking carefully about the way we use resources such as food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs, it’s possible to get much more out of life by using less and aiming for quality rather than quantity — contrary to the commercial system.
Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It encourages us to be resourceful and self-reliant by co-operating with nature and caring for the Earth and its people. In a nutshell, permaculture is described as ‘systems thinking’ - viewing the whole, as opposed to most modern thinking which prefers to isolate its objects of study from their vital context by putting them in simplified and controllable experimental environments. A good example of isolation is the increasing specialisation of medicine; the human body has been separated into its constituent parts and specialists examine the individual components of the body, separate from the complete person and their individual relationship to life. Systems thinking respects that everything has a connection, cause and effect.
Permaculture has become a worldwide movement, encompassing all aspects of how human beings can live harmoniously in relation to the Earth and its finite resources. The design principles apply equally to both urban and rural dwellers.
In the Western world, boiling an egg has become an extremely industrialised process, relying on vast amounts of energy and resources. Just think of the resources needed to produce, package and transport a dozen commercial eggs together with the associated pollution costs. Take the hens themselves as one small piece of the jigsaw: commercial layers need to be replaced at least biannually, thus a constant breeding programme is required to maintain egg production. Their unnatural, stressful habitat leads to disease, which requires chemical intervention in the form of antibiotics. Then there is their feed, which is generally some form of manufactured pellets and requires oil to transport it from the factory to the site. The eggs need to be sorted and graded before being packaged and transported to a distributor. Manure needs to be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way. So you can see that by taking one small aspect of the process, there is much processing involved which is both polluting and energy intensive.
To complete the process, in the home, water is boiled using either electricity, which is often generated by burning fossil fuels, or from nuclear reactors or by burning natural gas.
The permaculture approach
So how can you apply permaculture to the simple task of boiling an egg? Let’s take a look at the elements needed to boil an egg and the connections between the chicken and the egg and how they can be recycled in the system.
In the natural world, there is no such thing as pollution. Within an eco-system, every ‘waste product’ is useful elsewhere within that system.
The eggshell is a ‘waste product’ of this system. Instead of throwing it out in a plastic rubbish bag to go to landfill (pollution and burning more oil in transport and management), it can be recycled on the compost heap along with raw kitchen scraps, garden waste and chicken poo. After nine months or so, depending on how frequently you turn the compost heap, you’ll be left with a dark, crumbly and earthy-smelling material that can be dug into the vegetable plot to improve soil vitality and provide a source of food for your crops.
The chickens, in their role as environmentally-friendly tillers, can help prepare the seed beds for sowing. The crops are sown and tended before being harvested — any surpluses are shared with the chickens.
The chickens free-range, perhaps through an orchard, foraging for their own ‘live’ food whilst acting as walking herbicides, manure providers, foraging pest controllers, breaking the lifecycle of pests and post-harvest gleaning.
To complete the laying cycle, the hens need a place where they feel safe to lay their eggs, whether this be in a nest box in the chicken coop or their own ‘private’ nesting site. The eggs are collected regularly and provide food for the family.
So you can see that the hens in a permaculture design serve many more functions beyond egg-laying, unlike their commercial counterparts. Birds that are not stressed by over-population, enjoy a healthy diet and feel safe and secure can lay for years.
Water is an essential resource needed to boil an egg. But you don’t have to turn on the tap connected to the mains water. Water can be harvested from roofs and filtered before being used in cooking.
Heating the water resourcefully is more problematic. You could use a wood-burning stove or range or perhaps you have a solar photovoltaic system to generate your own electricity or cooking with biogas.
Thinking about the way in which we undertake simple daily tasks and taking responsibility for our actions can help us reduce the amount of resources we consume and exploit and in so doing enable us to get more out of life not only for ourselves but also for our flock. ‘Less is more’. Good luck trying to explain that one to your girls at breakfast!