Sustainable feed and Default Livestock
As a permaculturist, I would have to say all of the animals on my farm are “default livestock.” We have a meat rabbit tractor, our goats are fed strictly grass and fodder from the farm when they are not working as land clearers, and our ducks are free ranging, eating fingerling tilapia from the pond, tadpoles, and foraging for seeds and whatever else strikes their fancy. Our tilapia and catfish feed from the pond as well, eating guppies, mosquito larvae, hyacinth roots, and bugs they catch at the water surface.
I would argue, in our case it is more sustainable to have these animals on the farm, than to have to do all the work they do ourselves. That’s without considering the value of the added fertility of the land, and the reduction of plant pests provided by the poultry.
Eventually, we want even the farm dogs to fall into the “default livestock” category, because we plan to feed them a raw diet of meat and poultry from the farm. Of course, the dogs aren’t really considered livestock, they’re more like extended family. Still, the idea of not having to buy food for our gigantic mastiff and the rest of the gang seems like a more sustainable, not to mention healthier for our beloved pooches.
The idea of raising my animals on “ecological leftovers” had never really crossed my mind. However, the idea of producing everything we need to sustain ourselves and our animals has always been a main goal since we started farming.
On the farm and on the island, my favorite example, of default livestock is bees. You don’t even really have to maintain an apiary out here to have bees on your farm. Bees are everywhere here, and they are certainly able to maintain themselves without us giving them sugar water or even worse high fructose corn syrup. In our case, we don’t really even have to give them honey for the winter. Still, we believe the best practice is to leave the bees some of their honey reserves to maintain themselves. Having to feed bees from a source outside the farm or any livestock for that matter seems rather unsustainable in my opinion.
There are certainly many alternatives to maintain some degree of meat and livestock production sustainable, regardless of the objections of vegetarians and vegans all over the globe. This island still produces a lot of grass-fed beef on lands that are otherwise not used for agriculture. The advantage of this free range cattle grazing system is that it maintains the fertility of the land, and contributes to maintaining vegetation systems under control since the rainy season in any tropical area will greatly increase unwanted vegetative growth everywhere. They also consume grasses and many plants that humans simply cannot or are not willing to consume.
On the other hand, most people still give a lot of feed to their poultry, pigs, goats, and such. Interestingly, these are the products that are less sustainably grown in this rural area that could potentially sustain all of these animals with what most would consider “ecological leftovers”.
As such, without a label certifying that it is organic, you can happily order a steak from local meat with the knowledge that it was sustainably grown as default livestock. However, local poultry, will almost always have consumed industrial chicken feed that contains antibiotics. In some cases, the chickens are still free ranged, in others they are grown in better conditions than in the large scale broiler facilities, but with much the same philosophies for feeding.
Fairlie, Simon. 2011. Meat: A Benign Extravagance. White River Junction, Vt: Chelsea Green Publishing.