farm animals

pets and permaculture: composting poo

So my kid wanted a pet. This was discussed for quite awhile before we agreed that she was responsible enough to take care of a small animal herself. Because, if it’s your pet, you are cleaning up after it. That’s the way it goes around here.

The next task was to figure out what kind of small animal. Fur was high on the priority list (skinny pigs, anyone? UGH), as was a personable personality. We have friends with rats; they are personable enough (both the friends AND the rats) but I was looking for MORE. I didn’t want to have a pet that was JUST a pet.

I’ve been doing some more in-depth learning about permaculture for the past year or so, and one of the tenets concerns the functions of the items allowed in a system. If all the parts of our living arrangement – house, land, indoors and out – are all segments of a living system that we create to serve our needs, then it makes sense that we would consider the functions of every single thing that we allow into our system.

pets and permaculture - stacking functions‘Stacking’, in permaculture, is the idea of things having more than one function. It’s a tree that provides shade as well as fruit, or a bench that also has built-in storage space for the plethora of kids’ toys clogging up the system. The more functions the better, right? Especially when dealing with limited space, as we are, in the city. When it comes to pets, it only makes sense that they should also have more than one function. 

We considered the system. We are expanding our garden space (in the front yard!) but we have limited space for year-round composting. This is why we ended up getting a rabbit. He is fluffy and cuddly and mostly house trained, which suits my daughter’s preferences. His poops are mild enough to be used on the garden straight from the source, which suits MY preferences. I had fantastic peppers this year, grown in rabbit manure from a friend’s compost pile. I’m looking forward to next season, when I can use Bunny’s contribution in our front yard garden.

Would you like to use your pet’s waste in your garden? Dogs and cats can contribute their waste as well, but it needs to be composted first because it will burn plants when fresh. And could also spread disease.

Here are some links to other sites that show you how:

DIY Dog Waste Composter

How to Compost Your Cat’s Litter

Rabbit manure can be put in the garden right away, but my growing beds are not ready for that yet. For now, we’ve got some straw bales set up as a sort of square corral in the backyard, and that’s where the waste is dumped when the cage gets cleaned. In the spring, when we build up the beds, we will use the straw as well as the rabbit manure. The straw will be mostly used for mulch and pathways, and it will gradually work its way into the soil and add nutrition.

Spring seems like a long time away from now, but I’m sure it will be here before we know it!



a taste of winter

chickens perched over snowThe chickens weren’t quite sure what to make of all the snow a few days ago. Here you see them perched on their step, hesitating to jump off.

I stood and watched them for a bit, wondering if I would need to give them a gentle nudge. They really did stay up there for a good amount of time. I watched, and then I poured some feed into their feeder. Even then, they stayed. Usually the sound of food makes them come running – they are teenage boys after all – but this time they were still not sure what they would be getting themselves into if they left the safety of their perch.

Eventually, one jumped. When he turned out ok, the others followed.chickens eating

And here you can see them fighting over the food as usual. No problem! They’re all doing really well. I’m surprised, actually, because my laying hens from last winter had colds by now. Well, I think it was one that usually was more sneezy than the others, but still. I haven’t heard a single sneeze from these ones yet!

And they’re maturing so nicely. The black in their tails and around their necks is really starting to come out. I even heard a few honks from a couple of them, which is the noise they make before they are actually old enough to crow. They definitely don’t make the little baby cheepy noises anymore. Sniff sniff.

winter pepperAnd here’s one more winter photo for you on this rainy day: a bell pepper plant, very much dead. You can see I haven’t done any tilling yet. I might pull out a few of the larger plants, so they don’t interfere too much with snowman building, but everything else will stay unless we get some crazy mild weather and the time to do something about it.

It doesn’t hurt to leave things. If you haven’t yet ‘cleaned up the garden’, don’t worry about it. By the time winter is through with your garden, the cleanup is much easier. I like to leave things for spring when they’re easier to pull out or hoe or rake. Plus, at that point I have way more energy because I’m excited about the new season AND the days are getting longer and longer! Many more daylight hours to get things done, and new life is all around. I can hardly wait.

A few more weeks of decreasing light, though. We can do it!

more meat

little chickens

When a friend called and asked for help taking a few young chickens off her hands, how could I refuse? Give these ones a month or two and they’ll be ready for dinner. Right now they’re just too cute – see the chirpy chirp video – but they’ll get big. These are roosters, unwanted hatchlings from a farm that raises egg-laying hens.

They’re different from the last meat birds I raised. These are Light Sussex, a dual-purpose bird, so they won’t get as big, but they also won’t be as awkward either. The white rocks I had were very heavy on the front, so they looked a bit clumsy and uncomfortable. These light sussex are pretty spry so far. Some pics and info on the Sussex breed show a few different varieties (scroll down on the linked page for very cute chickie pics!). They may not have as much breast meat on them, but that’s ok because I like the dark meat anyway. Here’s my lunch today:

chicken avocado mango salad

Dark chicken meat from the last batch of chickens in my backyard, mango, avocado, and other flavours. It’s not a very local salad, I know, but for me it’s more important to know that the meat is free of antibiotics, chemicals, hormones, etc. They were happy chickens allowed to scratch in the dirt and have space to live.

If you are interested in growing your own chicken in your kitchen garden, check out Backyard Chickens. It’s a very informative site that can probably answer most of your questions.


she loves it

pulling out the rutabaga

This is my daughter with her favourite vegetable, a rutabaga. I planted a whole (short) row of seeds, but only one made it through the ravages of weather and insects and rodents. It’s not large but it’s homegrown and we’re excited about it. Me, because I haven’t ever grown it before and it’s actually possible. She, because she can’t wait to eat it.

I don’t know why I have a hard time believing I can grow certain things. Perhaps because they were never grown in my childhood garden? Or maybe somewhere along the line I was told that it wouldn’t work very well. I tend to forget about my garden for stretches of time, so things that need more attention often suffer the consequences. Whatever the reason, living with self-doubt often leads to being pleasantly surprised when things work out. Like this beautiful purple veggie.

After we pulled it out of the ground, we cut off the extra root and the greens, and fed them to Velvet, our bunny.

velvet eating rutabaga greens

To watch a 12-second video click here.

Spoiler/cuteness alert: She loves it!


meet velvet

velvet the bunny

This is the newest addition to our meat garden. Velvet, as the girls have decided to call her, is a meat rabbit who will become the mother of some tasty meals.

Don’t mind the patch of brown – she’s actually just pure white with grey nose, ears, and tail. She had some fun outside in the grass today and got herself a little bit dirty. She’s a cross between the California and New Zealand breeds, hence the grey bits from her California side.

She came from a friend who sold me on the idea of raising rabbits when she said they’re quiet and their waste is a lot less overpowering in stench than that of the chickens. They’re also very productive – it doesn’t take long to go from just born to ready for supper, and rabbits will breed a few times through the season.

So here we go – we’re going to give it a try!!

home grown meat

homegrown chickens

My baby chicks are not babies anymore! They are getting very close to harvest time. The rooster is the biggest of the bunch, as you might be able to tell from the photo. These four are what I have left from the six I started with. For some reason I ended up with two that didn’t make it. There was no sign of foul play (example: neighbor’s cat), so I can only assume they died of something natural, like a heart attack or something. That’s a hazard with this breed – they are bred for quick weight gain, which tends to cause heart attacks and systemic problems that the older varieties don’t have. I’m happy with four for now, because I’m planning to learn how to harvest them myself. (Starting small is good!) My parents-in-law are experts; they’ll be showing me how to do things.

Quick cost analysis: So far I’ve spent about $44 on the birds, which will be about $11 per bird. Considering organic pastured chicken bought whole tends to go for about $20 or more per bird, depending on weight, I think I’m doing alright. Once the birds are butchered and weighed, I will have a more accurate cost per pound.

Why am I growing chickens in my garden?

First, you need to know that I like to try new things. That’s just as big a reason as any kind of organic environmental cost-effective excuse I can give you. The “Oh Cool” factor is just as big if not bigger. Yes I’m cheap and yes I want to eat organic meat and yes the chickens are happier when given room and dirt to scratch in. But ultimately, I love to show people new and crazy things. So… here they are! Chickens in my backyard. Happy chickens eating bugs and scratching in the dirt.

Second, I’m an omnivore. I like my veggies, but I also like my meat. Without meat my body does not function well. (I won’t go into detail here.) So, in my kitchen garden where I grow food, I thought I’d grow meat as well as veggies. Meat is food. Let’s grow some.

Third: It saddens me to think that people today have such a disconnect between their food and where it comes from. I’m hoping to help educate whoever wants to learn more about where food comes from. I know not everyone can grow their own meat, but in my small part of the universe, perhaps people could come see my chickens and connect with what the meat looked like before it was a cold slab of flesh in their fridges.

Would you grow meat in your garden if you had the room?