Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Permaculture and Chicken Scratch--Holons

Hello friends!  It's a rainy day today, so I find myself with a little bit of time to luckily write this next post.  First, though, I just want to mention that this is my 400th post.  Apparently I have a lot to say.  But seriously, I want to thank each and every one of you who come around here to visit me and to tell you how much it means.  I started this blog for myself, to remind myself of what happened here and when.  I didn't think I would meet such nice people along the way.  So thank you all from the bottom of my heart!  It's been a pleasure to know you all, it really has.

Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

Back in the first post I wrote about permaculture, I mentioned a concept called holons.  I love this idea, I really do.  It's probably because I like to segment things into their "proper" boxes, you could say, and then, after they're all neat and tidy, figure out what to do with them.  Thinking of the animals and gardens and such as separate entities in a way helps me to look at them and see how to use them better.  Especially because not a one of the things that goes on here is truly separate.  Everything at Chicken Scratch is part of the whole.  But looking at them in this light helps me to see a pattern and then tweak it if need be.

A couple of you commented the last time on how you would have one of the "sections" of your homestead relate to the other, ie: by composting with your chickens.  Yes, a lot of things like that go on here as well.  But to think it through was a bit overwhelming.  I couldn't really envision how the systems related, so I couldn't see where the "holes" were.  So I sat down and drew a diagram.

Click on this diagram---if you dare!  :)

Ok, Visio drew the diagram, but you get my drift.  Basically, I sat down and put the different holons on the diagram in relation to where they are in the yard and then drew a bunch of arrows.  First thing I noticed?  We have a LOT of different systems going on here.  Second thing I noticed?  That it looked a lot like a web, and most holons had arrows that were reciprocal, meaning that if there was an input to that system, there was also a useable output.  But it was difficult to see which holons needed the most of my input, and which needed the least.  So I tried again.

And that helped a bit, though the arrows get a bit confusing.  What I was trying to represent was all the ways that each holon here relates to the others.  The system is complicated, no matter how you slice it.  The one common factor? If I don't run it, it doesn't get run.  And that most holons contributed to at least one other holon in the system.  The other thing was that I could then clearly see which holons needed me the most, and which needed me the least. The second diagram really shows it.  The first arc of orangey things are the holons I visit most often (it's in an arc just because it didn't all fit on the page).  The second line are the things I visit less, and the third, least of all.  I did not include the woods, even though it would count and should have a place--probably with the bees.  We'll have to just pretend it's there.

This was how this broke down:
  1. Dairy goats
    1. Input from me; feed, hay, water, shelter, care, scritching (very important).
    2. Output from them; milk for us (myself and family), manure for vegetable gardens and perennial gardens. Potentially also manure for berries and fruit trees, but I haven't used it that way yet.
  2. Waterfowl
    1. Input; shelter, feed, water
    2. Output; eggs for us, manure for gardens and potentially orchard/berries.  Unnoted output: protection for free-ranging hens and ducks.
  3. Layers
    1. Input; shelter, feed, water
    2. Output; eggs for us, manure for gardens and potentially orchard/berries.
  4. Fiber Rabbits
    1. Input; shelter, feed, water
    2. Output; manure for the chickens (I know, but they like it), manure for the gardens, waste feed for the chickens, and fiber for us.
  5. Large Vegetable Garden/Small Vegetable Garden
    1. Input: animal manures from layers, waterfowl, goats, backyard rabbits, fiber rabbits, broilers, and broodies, seed, water, compost, time, protection
    2. Output: food for us (hard to argue with that one), compost materials, waste food for animals
  6. Backyard Rabbits
    1. Input; shelter, feed, water
    2. Output; manures for gardens
  7. Perennial Garden
    1. Input; time weeding, plants, seeds, composts, manures
    2. Output; flowers to attract pollinators
  8. Orchard/Berries
    1. Input: composts, manures, time weeding
    2. Output: food for us, compost materials
  9. Broody House
    1. Input; shelter, feed, water
    2. Output; reliable source for egg hatching naturally ( I don't know about you, but my layers are idiots and forget which nest they were sitting on almost constantly. Silkies always remember), eggs for us
  10. Broilers
    1. Input; shelter, food, water
    2. Output; food for us, manure for gardens
  11. Bees:
    1. Input; shelter, food (if necessary)
    2. Output; honey for us, pollination for gardens
***Note that I did not count time as an input unless it was more time than everything else needed.  Time is an input everything needs.  It got silly writing it over and over.

Whew!  Once I had put that down, I saw the slackers:  the backyard rabbits, the broody house, and the perennial garden.  I don't like slackers.  So I had to think about whether all the inputs that those holons receive was really worth the outputs they produce.  I first concluded that the broodies are earning their keep.  As the price of shipping chicks goes up and up and up, it's becoming too expensive to do. Therefore I need a reliable method of hatching my own fertile eggs (well, not mine specifically, but you know what I mean), since my layers cannot be counted on.  I do own an incubator.  Or two.  But that would require an additional input of electricity, whose price goes up and up and up.  The broodies will need to be fed whether or not I use the incubator, causing the whole process of hatching eggs to cost more.  Therefore, the broodies are cheaper in the long run.  So yes, though at first blush they seem to be slackers, they are not.

The backyard rabbits are another issue.  Feed costs money, they take time.  They produce manure, but since bringing in the fiber rabbits, who do the same thing and yet also produce saleable or useable fiber, they're sort of redundant.  So at this point it's a question of do I keep them and keep on keeping on because it's only 3 rabbits?  Or do I sell them and gain a bit more time in my day and less feed used?  I have not been able to answer that one yet, because it's not so simple as black and white.  But I do recognize that it's something I need to address at some time, probably soon.  If the price of feed continues to rise, that will probably decide for me.

The last slacker?  The perennial garden.  Basically it does nothing but look pretty.  Is that enough?  Yes, actually, I think it is for now.  The garden does not demand feeding or new plantings, if I do that, it's up to me--it needs weeding and mulching to keep it looking nice.  In return, it's beautiful to look at and attracts bugs, bees and birds that then hang around and pollinate things when they visit, and not just the plants in the perennial garden.  This is an example of another sort of intangible output, much like the broody house (or the bees, whose pollination efforts benefit me both directly as honey and indirectly as fruit set).   However, I can "up" the productivity of this garden by snuggling in edibles or herbs.  This is something I will be doing in the next year, that I can tell.

It took a long time to get through that, but one of the first principles of permaculture is observation.  It means for you to see the land and the systems at place within it.  There are many natural systems on this property I still need to look at, but the like it or not, I put all these systems here, and I needed to see how they were working (or not working) first.  Now I know.  My advice you to, my friends, in this time of economic stupidity and climatic crisis that we are in, is to sit on down with a piece of paper and a pencil and draw yourself a diagram like I did. See how your processes lie.  See who contributes what to whom and how.  Find the weak points.  Decide what to do with them. As money gets tighter, it's harder to throw around at things that just don't work.  That's something I am learning.  We start at the beginning by looking and deciding.  Then we'll take action.  Before you know it, we'll be rockin'!

Agree with me?  Am I off my rocker?  Talk to me.  Let me know what you think.  If it takes me a while to comment, I apologize--summer is busy.  I will get back to you, though.  That I promise!

post signature


  1. What you did above is actually all good systems engineering. Complete with powerpoint ready flowchart diagrams!

    You shouldn't discount your own morale however. Without you there is no system. So i think you're undervaluing the perennial garden; i know it makes you happy and a happy you is a more efficient and motivated you.

    See you should have been an engineer!

  2. Wow. I mean, really, wow! All of what you put together and wrote is amazing and thorough and...just wow!

    While I have not assessed anything as deeply as you have (nor do we have half the systems you do), but we do assess our layers regularly (hence the past culling and downsizing recently). I have said that, if we didn't have our dogs, we would have goats, because that's the only remaining space they could feasibly go in. BUT, we love out dogs, even though they give us nothing but love in return ;-)

  3. OH!!! I forgot to mention...Congratulations on your 400th post! So glad to have found you and gotten to know you a bit! Cheers to many more posts and much more learning (together and apart, through Internet Land)!


I always love to hear from you. Thank you for leaving your comment here!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...