Perennial fodder, food forests, and animal growing systems

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Tropical forests make up most of Indonesia’s original landscape. This is the natural system that we would like to emulate in terms of permaculture design. Whether it be to produce food, energy, timber or anything else. 

How do annual crops and animals fit into the equation? How do we go from here to ectomycorrhizal forests that sequester carbon? Understanding the soil food web and nutrient balance within each stage of succession from starting point to forest (whether it be grasslands/shrubs/secondary forest) is of paramount importance. 

Animals and annual plants, when placed correctly in space and time, can become an important ally in reforestation - as opposed to it's most common role as deforesters and overgrazing animals. 

There is a way to integrate animals for them to contribute positively to a plot of land. They can produce numerous valuable byproducts this way - fertilizer from their manure, and meat being the most obvious.

Animal integration in Project MX

We have a considerably huge site here, 23 hectares - enough to feed all the animals we plan to have and more. Trees, bushes, shrubs, grass and the small animals that live in between them and the soil have the potential to nourish and grow our animals; goats, chickens, ducks, earthworms, and many more. s

The problem is getting the animals to the food source and making them stay there for a designated period of time. The key to solving this problem is implementing the right kind of borders so that the animals can stay at their intended places and perform their efficient functions. Put in the wrong place with the wrong infrastructure, these animals can cause damage, interrupt workflow and fall victim to predators and disease.

 Let's take the example of goats: 

Brownies, one of our wonderful lawnmowers.

In this picture you can see vegetation on the right that is fenced off. Goats are introduced for 3 days. During those three days they eat the existing vegetation and turn the plot to this:

The grazed plot is now barren. Goats have eaten the vegetation - but they have also left something of good value there; nutrient rich manure. The goats work as the initial gardeners of the plot, cutting grass and fertilizing the area, in preparation for the forest to be planted. 

It is hard to see from the aerial picture, but the side view shows the many trees that we have planted as pioneer reforestation species. These include Leucaena leuphola (lamtoro), kaliandra, cassava, papaya, citrus and gedi leaves. These pioneer trees are installed to fix nitrogen to the soil, provide mulch, a future food source for the goats, nectar for honey production, starchy cassava roots and fast yielding fruits from the trees. 

The goats are then moved to the next plot where they repeat the same cycle again, as shown in the picture above. 

After a few months the plot will look like this. Fast growing nitrogen fixing trees covering the canopy and ready to be used as intended. In this stage we can do many things - put up the net again and run the goats underneath the trees to clear the weeds (this risks doing damage to the trees too, but bone sauce trials to prevent this are on the way). Or run some chickens/ducks inside the netting to do the same function, simultaneously cutting cost for their feed. 

After the animals have done their jobs we can inter-plant long term fruit trees in between, and “chop and drop” the nitrogen fixing trees to give the fruit trees a constant source of nutrients. The nitrogen fixing trees can still be harvested for goat feed for as long as we wish, as it regenerates itself in about 3 months. This is called “coppicing”.

Judging from the success of initial trials, “managed grazing” will likely be the system of choice to raise goats, sheep, ducks and chickens on our site. There are still many variables to be optimized; stocking density for the animals, for one, but this is the first step in design for food production in the most efficient and ecologically sound manner possible. 

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