This is Rudy. He manages the chickens and ducks here at BCCF in a rather symbiotic fashion. The chickens and ducks (10 chickens, 30 ducks) live in this small greenhouse through the winter (being let out on warm days) where they are protected from predators and the cold. Everyday Rudy moves two wheelbarrows worth of wood chips from our prodigious supply (given away by local arborists) to the greenhouse to provide new bedding for the birds. This ensures that the greenhouse does not smell and that the birds are clean. The combination of wood chips and poultry manure accumulates in raised beds made out of salvaged material where it begins to compost. Wood chips are high in carbon and poultry manure high in nitrogen so the two ingredients are well matched in terms of creating hot compost (provided they are combined in the right ratios). When the raised beds are full an extension will be added to the greenhouse (also made from salvaged materials) so that the whole process can begin again on fresh ground, leaving only extremely fertile compost in its wake which can be used for growing food (in raised beds; Rudy plans on growing watermelon, which he thinks will go over well with children in the summertime). The feed that the birds miss actually starts to sprout in the warm greenhouse providing an extra source of nutrition for the animals. The birds are also fed some of the food waste that we get delivered from FoodShare once a week and that we otherwise use in our compost piles.
The chickens and ducks are raised for their eggs, which are the best tasting and best looking eggs I have ever eaten. The difference in quality from eggs bought at a grocery store, even the organic brands (although I have not tried them all) is quite noticeable.
The amount of labour put in is relatively minimal although it does require a certain daily commitment. Being a karate teacher, Rudy considers this part of his daily kata, a word which can be defined as a “detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs”.
The sustainability of the process, considered in terms of how “closed-loop” the whole thing is, is fairly good. The wood chips and feed are the only ongoing external inputs. Ideally, the birds could be fed from food scraps and insects alone (from on-site or nearby), which would eliminate one unclosed flow of nutrients. And ideally the birds could be bedded with material that is produced on-site (or close enough to be easily transported), but local wood chips seem like a pretty good option. The greenhouse and raised beds are made from mostly salvaged materials, which extends the useful life of otherwise landfill material. Of course, eventually these things will wear out and need to be replaced with more salvaged material or new products. The birds themselves will also “wear out” but luckily Rudy knows how to raise more.
Economically, we must ask ourselves whether the effort put in to raise the birds is less than the benefit we derive from the eggs and compost produced (not to mention the exercise and personal enjoyment from the work). Otherwise, if the effort outweighs the return, then that would not be economical and we should not engage in the activity. Considering the quality of the products and the small amount of direct labour involved, it would seem to be very economical.
Financially, the endeavour is probably also worthwhile, since most of the inputs are free (with the exception of feed and labour) and people are often willing to pay higher prices for quality products. However, currently the eggs and compost are not being sold. Instead, Rudy is hoping to create a membership-based system in which people can work in exchange for some of the byproducts (like really really good eggs and a sense of personal satisfaction from working outdoors at a productive activity). In the meantime, the Black Creek Community Farm benefits from the presence of animals and Rudy has a place to grow his operation. In particular, while the children who attend our programming are less impressed by vegetables, they are super excited about chickens and ducks. Rudy also offers free karate and chess lessons as part of his social enterprise (called Dynamic Lifestyle). To learn more about Dynamic Lifestyle or to support the work that Rudy is doing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The use of animals in conjunction with vegetable crops harks back to an era in which this was common practice. Today we often raise animals and plants separately, which means that the fertilizer from the animals is hard to use to grow plants. So animal waste becomes pollution and plant fertilizer must be synthetically created. In my mind, Rudy’s system is a step in the right direction of restoring a sustainable agricultural system. Yes, it is more labour intensive but it is correspondingly less energy and resource intensive, and the eggs speak for themselves.