Any natural, stable and thriving ecosystem, such as a forest or woodland, has diverse trees, plants and animals. Without animals to process fruits and grass, turning them into manure for the insects and other microbiology in the soil to break down, I am not sure how our forests would look. At Keela Yoga Farm, we are trying to replicate this natural ecosystem with trees and plants that provide us with food and other resources, but also by integrating animals which will help stabilize the food forests and provide us with further resources.
Animals that we have integrated into our farm:
They snaffle up bugs, eat maggots in fruits too and could prevent fly infestations; they turn over the soil and create compost. Unfortunately, we have had huge problems with our dogs, which like to kill them. We got chickens in March 2017 and have kept them in chicken tractors, free-ranging and in a chicken pen. We now have them in a fancy chicken system with a chicken-powered compost system, a chicken food forest, a wormery and grey water. This system has been featured in Permaculture Magazine.
These are Invertebrate animals and should be kept in every household. They quickly turn leftover raw vegetables, fruits or manure into rich soil and produce a liquid fertilizer called ‘Worm Tea’ for the gardens. The number of worms doubles every six months and can be used as a beautiful treat for plant beds to aerate the soil and for poultry to feast on. Since we started keeping worms in a small container in our house in Singapore, we hardly sent any food waste to the landfill. We have two worries, one we feed with food scraps and the other with manure.
Now we have a flushing toilet processed by worms in our house. A long drop vermiculture dry compost toilet featured in permaculture magazine, an automatic worm feeder in the chicken run, and we sell compost worms.
Another incredible animal that can cause much less damage than goats and produces milk, cheese, lambs, wool for clothing or insulation, manure and meat. We have 30 sheep to help keep the grass down and provide us with manure.
Sheep are a vital part of our silvopasture and agroforestry plantations.
Pigs eat anything from weeds and acorns to scrap food and turn it all into excellent manure. Pigs can also dig out deep roots of weeds by placing acorns and other nuts into the ground they want to devour. They dig them up and make the ground ready to plant. We want to avoid using machines to do the work when animals can do them naturally for us.
Our pigs are part of an oak and cork oak silvopasture and keep the land clear for us.
We got baby Goats in May 2017 and sold them five months later. Goats are beautiful animals; most people have them on their farms in Portugal. They can help to clear shrubs, weeds and, if you’re not careful, healthy trees too. They turn these into goat’s milk which makes the most beautiful cheese and, of course, meat if you want. They could eat everything if left confined to a small area with plants you do not want, but they would always escape over a fence into the neighbour’s plot when free roaming. Due to our desire to not chain animals and grow trees, we will not get goats again for a very long time, we are sticking to our sheep, pigs and chickens for now.
Unlike chickens, they do not cause as much damage to the vegetable patch but have eaten a lot of our cabbages, and they eat other food sources such as snails that chickens don’t eat and thus help give us all-round protection from little critters that would like to eat our food. These guys also shed proper feathers and can produce delicious meat. We first kept our ducks near the house, but there was no pond for them; we then moved them into a lovely duck house at night, and they free-range around the lake during the day. When selling our goats, we decided also to get rid of the ducks to try and reduce daily tasks and job lists, as fencing needs to be installed to keep the dogs away from them. We will reintroduce these lovely creations into a food forest created just for them next to our new lake.
Cats help to keep mice, mole and vole populations at bay. We have four cats who complexly fail at their task due to being spoilt by their owners.
We will need a couple of dogs to help protect and control our animals and provide companionship to our family and community. We got two cute dogs in Jan 2017 who are our pets. We also have a live stock guardian dog in 2022 which is still undertaking training. These dogs have thousands of square meters of land to live in and will be the happiest doggies in the world! But above all, they will act as an alarm for any intruders, preditors and they also help with rodents.
Animals that we don’t yet have:
Donkeys can eat a lot of grass and weeds and turn them into valuable manure. The manure can help our compost piles breed the microorganisms we want in our soils. Donkeys can also be used to help with farm work and are wonderful companions. Due to the use of diesel engines and machinery on farms, there is little or no need for donkeys around the country with local farmers. This has resulted in a decrease in population which the government is trying to rectify. We plan to breed donkeys and hope to encourage others to do the same.
Geese – These birds also eat grass and act as an excellent alarm for intruders due to making a lot of noise when disturbed; the best thing about them is that they do not touch any of our vegetables and are great poultry to keep in food forests. Their droppings, made of grass, do not smell so much and don’t turn a nice grass area into mud.
Rabbits – These animals can be put into large cages with no bottom. The cages can be moved regularly (much like a chicken tractor) and eat up all the grass. This saves the need for a lawnmower and how they produce manure and feed the grass or plant beds for us.
Snails – There are two different types of snails: The type you don’t want in your garden and the type you or your ducks can eat! If you don’t want to eat them, you can feed them to the ducks.
Fish – Fish consume plants and other small aquatic life. They then deposit manure into the water, providing nutrients to soils and plants when used for irrigation. They can also then be fed to animals or back to us.
Cows – Cows are the ultimate manure machines. They can turn a lot of grass into valuable manure, milk, cheese and yoghurt. However, I am not sure we will ever have such a large animal, at least not in the early days of Keela.
Being sustainable means growing our food, buying locally and organically, reusing everything, and making a significant effort to create less waste. However, we have found that you can’t grow vegetables and leafy greens enough all year round to meet your nutritional requirements. Animal products may need to be added to our diets during the winter. Many studies have shown that consuming animal products daily in large quantities is not suitable for your health and not good for the environment. Livestock requires more water and land for every calorie than plants, and many live in dire and unhygienic situations. However, if we raise the animals ourselves regeneratively, we know what they are eating and that they have been treated well. Our only alternative is the unsustainable and less eco-friendly option of shipping food from the other side of the world.
Unless you have a lot of land, starting with worms, maybe chickens, is the best way. We will eventually have all these animals and integrate them into our food forests. Please join one of the courses to learn more.