The whole story

PART 2 Julie Moore con­tin­ues her ex­plo­ration of the per­ma­cul­ture ap­proach to keep­ing chick­ens

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Hens and per­ma­cul­ture

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


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.


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

Hens in a per­ma­cul­ture de­sign serve many more func­tions be­yond egg-lay­ing

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!

TOP: Julie Moore with her hens ABOVE: The eggshell is a ‘waste prod­uct’ of this sys­tem and can be re­cy­cled on the com­post heap.

ABOVE: Chick­ens are part of a wider whole too

THE WHOLE STORY: How the egg fits in. Draw­ing courtesy of Lee Parish

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