What happens when you bring former ‘livestock’ animals into a permaculture farm to live out the duration of their lives? We’re learning how certain plantings enhance animal habitat, and animals enhance the plantings. We’re exploring these partnerships at SHO. Contact us to learn about how farm sanctuaries can incorporate supportive plantings for food and shelter.
We compost all our sanctuary duck bedding, and the surface of the pile remains cool enough to host an ASTOUNDING number of redworms, who will leave nutritious castings behind. This compost is gold. Comprised of local hay and organic feed (including home-grown comfrey and smooth bedstraw fed to the ducks). The compost will feed annual, nursery, and perennial crops here on the farm, adding great carbon sequestering capacity to the soil.
Exploring synergies between sanctuary and food systems that feed humans, wildlife, and those animals in our care— is a big part of our research here at SHO.
Black locust seeds litter the snowpack near our duck yard, after two days of high winds dislodged them from adjacent trees. Black locust leaves can be fed in small quantities to ducks, so we occasionally prune low-lying branches and strip the leaves into their water bowls. Black locust trees play a big role on our farm, since they fix nitrogen and create early nectar for pollinators with their sweet flowers. The flowers are also edible as a vegetable, and as a flavoring for syrups, and beverages. Black locust wood also makes excellent fuel wood, since it is both fast-growing and very hard. The downside: abundant thorns make it difficult to handle without good gloves!
How we compassionately (sorta) solved a rat infestation in our duck barn
This summer (2018) marked the first time we ever encountered rats within our duck barn. We had blithely kept the duck’s food bowls in 24 pens available 24-7, throwing the screened windows open during the warm summer days and nights for ventilation, and stockpiling numerous paper bags of poultry feed inside the barn.
Needless to say, this summer the rats came home to roost!
Not only were we finding odiferous rat droppings, chewed screens, and depleted food bowls, we found signs of chewed insulation, chewed wooden door frames, and small nests of babies (16! in one day) hiding within the stored hay bales.
One evening, when the skies had darkened and we came to the barn to check on the ducks, we flipped on the lights and the floor literally came alive with the scurry of rats. It was a freaky oceanic experience—the floor was moving!
We were faced with a real crisis—how to secure the safety of the ducks and the integrity of the building, while systematically removing the rats? Would we have to resort to lethal means?
We realized that the rats had leveraged the food we were leaving out for the ducks, and were reproducing in response to its accessibility. So the first thing we did was to remove the duck food at night. Rats are largely nocturnal, so first, we secured all the food in tightly-sealed metal containers. We found their outdoor burrows, and realized that they had ‘settled in’ in response to the food left behind by the ducks.
We also sealed the ports of entry, closing the windows at night, and cementing over 2 holes in the foundation reserved for conduit…that the rats were using for access. We also purchased hardware cloth to tack onto all the window frames, covering all window screens (a winter project yet to be completed).
The next step was to trap the rats already inside the barn. With the duck food secured, we set live traps baited with peanut butter, and sometimes captured 14 rats each night, releasing them many miles away near a large, marshy area, far from any residences. We also placed spent duck pellets there so the rats could benefit from their usual food source during the transition to wild foraging.
Fast forward to December 2018. We suspect that only one rat remains. [Update: we were wrong!] We observe signs of its presence, as well as its intelligence in evading the traps we have set. In large part, we feel our effort has been successful. Leveraging the removal of food with the presence of well-baited traps seemed to solve the issue.
We are delighted that we were able to compassionately capture and relocate over 150 rats, institute smart indoor food management, and provide for the health of the ducks. Our experience handling the rats was one of great fascination and compassion. Each rat had a different personality, some we felt incredibly connected to. Our respect for these creatures has only increased with our ongoing contact, as we learn to cohabitate and exclude where necessary.
UPDATE: While we only seemed to have a few rats remaining over the winter, they began to reproduce, and we have been live-trapping the young, keeping them in a large cage until we can release them in the spring (when the ground thaws). If we released them now, they would die either of starvation, or of cold, or a combination of both.
UPDATE#2: The rats were released in early spring!!! Upon telling our story of compassionate rat ‘management’ on social media, one of the neighbors in our small town contacted the Town Health Officer!! WOW!!! (next time pick up the phone, neighbor!) As a result, the Town Health Officer and the Town Animal Control Officer paid a friendly visit to our duck barn, exclaiming that they had ‘never seen such a clean barn’, and that everything was A-OK! Mason Racht-Campbell and Pam Alexander pictured with Shawn below.
A fairly recent interview by Scott Mann with author, researcher, and teacher Eric Toensmeier giving yet more updated information about the best agricultural systems and diet-styles for climate change. The interview covers needed policy change for the next farm bill in the US, and how planting perennials (including tree and shrub crops) can sequester carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. This is the direction for the farms of the future, including intercropping annuals and perennials on farms. There's a lot of talk in the popular public sphere about grazing systems as good carbon sequesterors, but the best systems pair trees with animals or trees with annuals or other perennials. He also shares the stark numbers that reveal how shifting to a plant-based diet offers one of the best strategies for food security, human health, and climate change.
This article offers important language to learn (especially for vegans) in discussing the role of animals, both wild and human-bred, in healthy food systems. This author, Nassim Nobari at Seed the Commons, emphasizes that while animals are central to healthy farm ecosystems, they need not be either captive-bred, nor do they need to be killed for profit. While we believe that farmed animals CAN certainly be a part of a regenerative system, we're challenging ourselves to not treat the as commodities in such systems. For those interested in re-establishing a non-exploitive relationship with animals, we're developing faming strategies that incorporate wildlife and rescue animals in a no-kill context. It's important to challeng the very concept of 'livestock' while embracing an informed and renewed relationship to animals, biodiversity, and ecosystems.
"Proponents of regenerative agriculture misrepresent vegans as advocating for ecosystems without animals. They posit that animals fulfill integral functions in their ecosystems and that without them, an ecosystem can only be unhealthy and an agricultural system can only be unsustainable. Nobody is disagreeing with them, but we don’t need to commodify animals for animal life to be present. In fact, grazing in California is wiping out the diversity of animal life to make way for a few species we have decided to subjugate and profit off of."
DUE TO THE HELP FROM A TALENTED COMMUNITY OF DOCTORS, FRIENDS, AND HEALERS, OLIVE HAS RE-JOINED THE FLOCK. AND WHAT A SASSY DUCK SHE IS! THANK YOU ONE AND ALL WHO HELPED WITH REIKI, DONATIONS, CONCERN, SUPPORT FOR US, AND MEDICAL EXPERTISE. IT ALL MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE. PLEASE ENJOY THE CELEBRATORY VIDEO OF HER FIRST TIME RE-JOINING THE FLOCK.
We purchase hay from a local farmer to use as indoor bedding for our 109 ducks. We expect to harvest our own pasture cuttings the near future. Spent bedding from the females' indoor pen is now ferried out through a barn window into this awaiting electric Club Cart which we bought used a good five years ago (believe it or not, it came from an old Trump golf course, and still has the Trump logo on the top!!). At the end of each day, we transport the wet, manure-soaked hay to the base of a tree in our orchard, following holistic orchardist Michael Phillips' recommendation to maintain piles of materials in various stages of decomposition near perennial trees--in this case you see cherries, goumi, siberian peashrub, seaberry, honeyberry, and nanking cherry, amongst others. So right from the duck-mucking into the orchard to feed the plants, mulch the dripline, and to create a slow release of nutrients to the trees. A nice way to integrate sanctuary bedding with the perennial food system. Other bedding is stacked in large windrows, and machine-turned for compost.
As we integrate our sanctuary ducks within our perennial food system, we practice working with natural succession (the natural progression from grassland to woodland). In our case, hayfields are becoming pollinator pastures combining flowering perennials alongside trees and shrubs. We're seeing smooth bedstraw begin to emerge more widely in this shift. Graziers DON'T like this plant in their hayfields (along with milkweed), and the plant can become somewhat invasive until succession wins out. We encourage the shift from pure grass/legumes to a grass/legume/forb mix--which excels at feeding pollinators, establishing a fungal network conducive to trees, and makes it easier to establish of orchard trees (due to decreased competition with grasses). For anyone who has tried, it is very labor-intensive to establish young trees in grass.
We have also discovered that ducks LOVE to eat bedstraw. This plant is simple to harvest and transport, and they also eat it within the orchard. So, a win-win for our system and the ducks.
Here’s a link to a great write-up about this plant and its human-medicinal and edible benefits.
Rabbits have nibbled the bark from this fallen apple branch. If possible, it’s best to prune fruit trees in stages over the winter months (leaving the cuttings around the trees on top of the snow, and especially during the coldest days) to provide food for the resident animals. In turn, they leave their droppings right near the base of your trees, and they are less likely to girdle younger trunks. When you approach food systems from the perspective of feeding the resident wildlife, new mutualisms emerge. It's a new perspective we're occupying more and more all the time--when you consider habitat and feeding patterns of the multiple species that occupy your biome, and you put those first, the benefits soar--just like prioritizing feeding the soil in organic management. The goal is to prove the concept in human food systems, which is what we're interested in resesarching. Anyone else out there who is researching this approach, please be in touch.
Rewilding Agriculture, or Wildlife-Assisted Permaculture, is a fundamental stewardship philosophy at SHO Farm/Sanctuary at SHO.
Most regenerative or wholistic farmers use livestock to cycle nutrients in their systems.
We are deeply immersed in researching and developing how to partner with our resident wildlife to achieve the same nutrient cycling.
This winter we’ve been delighted by daily visits to the farmstead by a deer herd of 10. This photo captures 4 of them foraging in one of our apple orchards, taking advantage of the 42 degree temp, low/no snow cover, and easier access to high quality calories. In return they will leave an abundant supply of fresh, high quality fertilizer.
Yesterday, The Vermont Commitee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife heard public testimony to change Vermont's existing law which allow coyotes to be killed 365 days a year, night or day, and to outlaw coyote killing contests which are still legal in Vermont. Here's a copy of my testimony, which describes our experience with this incredibly valuable and cherished resident of SHO Farm. Please note: SHO does not support killing animals for food when there are other ways of healthfully meeting our food needs. The organization for which I was testifying does not oppose subsistence hunting.
Thank you Chairman Deen and Committee members for this opportunity to speak with you, and for your consideration and work in addressing the issue of coyotes in our beloved Vermont.
My name is Melissa Hoffman, speaking on behalf of the Vermont Coyote Coexistence Coalition. I originally moved to Vermont in 1994 to start an organic vegetable farm, and I currently live in Huntington, steward 1300 acres abutting Camels Hump State Forest, and make my living on and from the land. My wife is a national conservation expert and land planner.
I want to highlight and elaborate on a few points from Commissioner Porter's report, which was clearly assembled with much effort.
It’s important to emphasize the multiple values and benefits to a wide swath of Vermonters, of managing coyotes NOT solely according to population numbers, but according to population STABILITY, focussing population management on the family group in any given territory, especially when assessing hunting impacts on coyotes.
For example, stable coyote groups greatly benefit orchardists and vegetable farmers like myself by keeping the rodents in check, by consuming fruit drops, and by propagating the fruits in our system via their scat.
Stable groups are also are far more valuable to livestock farmers than are UNSTABLE groups, because stable groups protect their territories from marauding juveniles, resulting in less predation on livestock.
Stable family groups better transfer learned avoidance behaviors and fear of humans to their young, and when combined with effective coexistence and hazing strategies create even more valuable stability in the human-coyote relationship.
Stable groups better teach young where and how to hunt their natural prey, and they breed according to available natural food supply.
Stable groups are more liable to keep to themselves, maintaining their innate and PREFERRED avoidance of humans.
Freely and randomly killing coyotes destroys all of these stability benefits for EVERYONE.
Thus the importance of focussing on the QUALITY of the coyote population and not simply the numbers of animals when creating policy. This distinction alone is sufficient to warrant a limited coyote season and the elimination of killing contests.
This brings me to my final point.
Those defending hunting in general tend to invoke the "bad apple” argument to both marginalize and explain some individuals’ fervent and often grotesque coyote persecution. We must grapple with the fact that these bad apples should be measured by their impact and not only their numbers. Law and policy most often shapes itself around those who tend toward the margins of behavior, not those who live, and in this case hunt and recreate outdoors respectfully. The impact of the coyote hunter is indeed inordinate, amplified by an inherited, mistaken, irrational dedication that they are righteously protecting deer and other game species (along with pets and children) by ’shooting every coyote they see.’ No amount of ‘education’ or information seems to reverse their conviction in their own motives. Thus policy needs to step in. The fact that these people can also kill coyotes 365 days a year, do so casually in the course of hunting other animals, and do so through coyote killing contests further skews and enlarges their impact.
To further arm this particular group with the logic that, and I quote from Porter’s report: “the year-round hunting of coyotes may actually contribute to the saving of coyotes” represents a head-scratching twist of mental gymnastics that I hope we all recognize for the schizophrenic and irresponsible statement that it is. Indeed, it pours gas on the fire of those who falsely justify coyote killing as somehow providing a public service—a conclusion that the main body of Porter’s report itself contradicts.
It’s fair to say that hunting CAN be a part of an important well-thought-out conservation vision that benefits all of us—even wildlife as a totality--but in the case of an open season and with killing contests, as the majority of the report itself outlines, this is clearly not the case and our policy should definitively and swiftly adjust to reflect this truth.
Link to Louis Porter's Coyote Report, cited in this testimony: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_73079/File/Hunt/trapping/Vermont%20Coyote%20Population%20Report%20to%20Legislature-2018.pdf
By Melissa Hoffman, Permaculture Food Lab at SHO Farm.
I was researching lyme disease and its coinfections in Stephen Buhrner’s excellent work this past week, and my reading drove home an important point. I suffered with CNS (central nervous system) and chronic lyme for over 15 years that has resolved for the most part, with some lingering systemic weaknesses. Both Shawn and I work outside much of the time, and the potential for lyme infection has grown in our home state of Vermont.
Many of the ingredients that Buhner recommends in his protocols are called ‘adaptogens’ that gently and non-toxically help moderate stress, support adrenal function, cleanse the liver, and even help the depression often accompanying lyme or other chronic illnesses. Some even help prevent lyme infection. Adrenals are taxed in many chronic illnesses, as they were with Shawn in conjunction with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Her healing protocol called for adrenal support and stress mitigation--which is exactly what adaptogens help accomplish. Many people can benefit from these gentle, supportive plants, especially at a time when our systems are metabolizing so much--just from being alive in our current environment. Our life conditions call for a re-evaluation of the elements that nourish us on a daily basis. I think we also need expand the question: What is food?
I’ve been making probiotic water-kefir beers, meads, and ales for a long time, using ingredients like chaga, turkey tail mushroom, roasted milk thistle seed and dandelion root—to make a beer-like drink that’s also tonifying, providing gentle support for the body’s immune system. I don’t like taking supplements or extracts unless treating something specific, and I seek instead to integrate non-toxic amounts of the plants and fungi permeating my home biome into foods, broths, beverages, as central flavor and health-enhancing elements.
Hawaiian red turmeric grown in pots at SHO
Japanese knotweed, for example, is an invasive plant where I live. We have a patch of it growing on our farm, away from traffic. Not only are the young shoots edible, but the root is central to Buhner’s lyme and coinfection protocols.
We live in increasingly toxic times, especially in areas prone to tick-born infections. Why not include these valuable ingredients in the beverages we love, in our daily cuisine, thus blurring the line between food and medicine?
I simply make a 'wort' or strong tea in an 8-quart pressure cooker, using about a quarter cup of ground chaga, toasted dandelion root, ground milkweed seeds, turkey tail, eleuthero root, japanese knotweed root, reishi (smaller amounts since its antibiotic properties will diminish water kefir probiotics). I taste the tea for balance, and add other herbs like ginger or turmeric to taste. I often add a strong infuion of hops if I want to make an IPA-like water kefir. For those of you familiar with making water kefir or komboucha, you add the wort to the first fermentation liquid, and then bottle in swing-top bottles for teh 2F (second fermentation).
Some information from Stephen Buhrner about japanese knotweed, polygonum cusupidatum:
"Polygonum cuspidatum’s constituents cross the blood-brain barrier, where they exert actions on the CNS: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, as protectants against oxidative and microbial damage, and as calming agents. The herb specifically protects the brain from inflammatory damage, microbial endotoxins, and bacterial infections. Knotweed enhances blood flow especially to the eyes, heart, skin, and joints. This makes it especially useful in Lyme and its coinfections as it facilitates blood flow to the areas that are difficult to reach to kill the organisms. It is a drug and herb synergist, facilitating the movement of other herbs and drugs into these hard-to-reach places when taken with them. It is also extremely effective for treating coinfection-initiated inflammatory arthritis. Its most potent constituents are the resveratrols, emodin, and polydatin. The plant root is so high in resveratrols that it is the main source of the supplement throughout the world.”...
…"The plant compounds in knotweed easily move across the gastrointestinal mucosa and circulate in the bloodstream. They cross, as well, the blood-brain barrier. Some 131 patents have been granted in the U.S. on the herb and its constituents for treating a variety of conditions, primarily cancer, inflammations, and neurodegenerative diseases.” (Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections: Complementary and Holistic Treatments for Bartonella and Mycoplasma (pp. 216-217). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.)
As we face a changing climate, multiple chemical components in both the environment and in consumer products that impact indoor air quality—and virtually every aspect of our lives—shouldn’t we be incorporating these kinds of protective, non-harmful substances on a regular basis? It’s time to think holistically, preventively, and to make use of the valuable gifts all around us, in plants, fungi, growing wild, and often unnoticed in our own back yards. Japanese knotweed, when harvested away from heavily-travelled and salted roads, is invasive in many parts of the U.S.
I’ll be teaching a class on how to use these components daily in brewing tonifying, probiotic no-to-low alcohol kefir-ales. This is information more and more of us need to learn. The same information can be used to make beverages with higher alcoholic content, even stocks used as a backbone in daily soups and sauces.
NEW!! Here's a link to the class...scroll to the bottom of the page.
This video by our friend, former horse 'whisperer' Ren Hurst, goes beyond veganism to describe a relationship to animals that requires great self-responsibility. Consider this a spiritual definition of veganism, or as describing a powerful path towards a non-expoitive relationship with animals and each other. Ren is the author of Riding on the Power of Others, and the upcoming Animal Kin: Restoring Connection to Wild Wisdom.
The banner video chronicles a robin nesting right outside our window in the kiwi vines that climb up the side of our house. Robins will raise up to 3 broods of chicks in one summer, adding vital nutrients to adjacent plants and fruit trees.