Modeling Sustainable Animal Husbandry
Studying the role of goats, ducks, sheep, fish and earthworms in a sustainable community
In weaving together the fabric of sustainability, there's probably no more complex dynamic than the many roles played by animals within the community. You'll learn how it's possible to raise meat in a humane and sustainable way without resorting to industrial farming methods, and how these animals play a vital role in creating sustainability in an ecological zone such ours.
At Windward, you'll get to see how these specific animals work in balance to convert things we don't eat -- such as grass, acorns and bugs -- into wholesome food such as eggs and milk. And, and how as a by-product of this process, Windward produces high quality, organic meat for the dining hall.
hens nesting in the rhubarb
At Windward, you'll get to work with the animals that contribute so much to building sustainability. In a time when most people have never milked a goat, sheared a sheep or picked duck eggs out of the hollow of a tree, this is a real treat.
You'll learn the subtle reasons why one type of critter fits into the sustainability matrix better than others. For example, we've learned to use India Runner ducks as our egg source since that breed is able to produce upwards of 160 eggs a year per hen, and they don't tear up the garden since their web feet prevent them from scratching young plants up out of the ground in the garden.
While the production of eggs, meat and duck down are important reasons for maintaining our duck flock, an equally important reason flows from their aggressive hunt for bugs of any sort. By giving ducks free range, we're able to keep insect pests in check without resorting to the use of any pesticides, thereby insuring the wholesomeness of our food chain. It's this sort of weaving systems together that creates sustainability, and that makes this lifestyle so endlessly fascinating.
A biological system, in order to be sustainable, needs to have a broad base. Which is why Windward works to maintain the viability of its land by utilizing a range of domesticated, wild and support aminals. It's a dynamic dictated by Harris' Law, and that's one of the laws that you break at your peril.
1) Domesticated Animals
At Windward, you'll learn why it's almost impossible to over stress the importance of the role that goats play in the operation of a sustainable community. For thousands of years, folks living close to the land have used goats to produce the nutrient rich food that helped them raise healthy children, children who in turn grew up to be good at caring for goats. Do that for hundreds of generations, and you reach the point where humans and goats become a sort of co-species. If that sounds strange, well you'll just have to come and get to know them. The first time you hear one of the yell for assistance, you'll realize where humans got the word "help" from.
Cows eat grass, no surprise there, but what's not obvious is that this means that cow's milk can only provide the minerals found in grass. Goats, on the other hand, eat a bit of everything, and a diverse diet puts less pressure on our land while producing milk which is far richer in minerals than the milk you buy in the store.
Goat milk also differs from cow's milk in important ways that make it far more digestible; for example, the little spheres of butterfat (it's the suspended spheres of butter fat that give milk its white color) are one third the size, which makes goat's milk naturally homogenized and much easier for humans to digest.
You'll learn how to transform goat's milk into cheese and yogurt, and the yogurt into that wonderful desert called "frozen yo'goat." When mixed with some of our home made preserves, it's a grand treat, indeed.
The does give birth in the spring, and then provide fresh milk for about seven months before needing to be dried off in anticipation of their next pregnancy. At Windward, you'll have the chance to be there as the does and ewes give birth welcoming in the newest generation in the ongoing dance of sustainability.
You'll also see how goats perform an important service by allowing us to purchase a few dairy steers and feed them goat's milk until they're able to make the transfer to solid food. The steers will spend the summer grazing busily converting our pasture grass into wholesome, lean meat.
When the hard frosts come in the fall, it's time to butcher the year's crop of kids, lambs and steers, a process which not only provides meat for the kitchen, but leather that's the perfect thickness to make a coat or head a drum.
fleshing out a hide
our flock out grazing
There's a wise old saying that observes that sheep give so much, and ask so little. So, true, which is part of the reason that sheep play an important role in building sustainability at Windward.
Perhaps the most critical question in sustainable animal husbandry is that of carrying capacity; i.e. how many animals can a given acre support without being degraded? That word "given" is in there because land varies considerably in quality of the soil, amount of rainfall, elevation, exposure, and so on.
One of the ways of adding a margin of safety to livestock grazing involves diversity since goats, sheep and cattle all tend to favor different types of forage with the result that a thousand pounds of mixed of animals will put less pressure on the land than a thousand pounds of any one type of grazer acting alone.
Consequently, we've diversified our grazing stock by mixing goats and sheep with only a modest utilization of dairy steers. This gives us meat, milk, wool and leather, important inputs we can use to build a sustainable life.
You'll get to learn about how wool works, how the different types of wool are used for different things. For example, you wouldn't use felting wool to make socks, or try to handspin batten wool. For those interested in working with fiber projects, we have everything from drop spindles to spinning wheels, from drum carder to harness loom.
And then you'll get to experience the incredible joy of being there as ewes and does give birth and set the cycle of life into motion again. Babies are nature's most remarkable miracle, and being part of that is a privledge you'll always remember.
At Windward, you'll have the chance to interact with animals that pull their own weight, have their dignity intact and aren't shy about asserting their interests. The result is a fascinating opportunity to learn about these remarkably intelligent creatures that have been an integral part of the human experience for thousands of years.
And you'll come to see why it's so important that room be made for them in our tomorrows.
momma and new born resting
2) Wildlife at Windward
Living in deep country, there's an ongoing dynamic between Windward and the wildlife that surrounds us. While we're not hunters, and have no interest in going into the woods to harvest wild animals, the wildlife around Windward has no qualms about coming onto our land and helping themselves to our feed stocks.
At that point, we are willing to harvest the deer that prefers to "graze" on the back side of our hay barn, the turkeys that show up at the dining hall to compete with the ducks for kitchen scraps or the peacocks that moved in and decided that bullying the ducks for their food was easier than scrounging around in the woods.
wild turkeys making a raid
As noted above, sustainability is founded on diversity, and the greater the range of animals that we can rely on to convert foods we don't eat into foods we do eat, the better it is for our land and our diets. And besides, when was the last time you got to taste stewed peacock with dumplings?
And in addition to putting food on the table, these wild "volunteers" provide a range of materials such as peacock feathers and deer skin that can be used to produce products for sale, thereby bringing in income that supports our sustainabile practices.
When you go to the supermarket and they have a cut of meat on sale, you'll think about what sorts of dishes you can make with that cut. When you're at Windward, and have an entire animal to work with, the range of options is awesome.
Brooks skinning a deer
2) Guard Animals
For the vast majority of people, the only animals they ever get to know are pets; at Windward, you'll get to meet and work with animals that are fully themselves, and operate within our sustainble systems in ways that are ancient and natural. The difference is profound.
Windward is located on the edge of a great wilderness that runs from the Columbia River north up the Cascade mountains into Canada. In the summer you could literally take a couple of goats in milk and walk your way to Canada living on milk and wild foods as you crossed fewer paved roads than you have fingers on one hand.
And in that wild land, there are many things that like to eat goats and sheep, and so the task of keeping our animals safe falls to our guard dogs. By day they're great fur balls of happy dog, but at night they're vigilant sentinels that stand guard against any four-leggers who would do our flock harm.
They're hyper-friendly since they've never been taught to guard against the two-leggers whom they've come to see as easy touches ready to give treats to happy dogs, but come sundown, they're all business.
Rowdy, our Great Pyrenees guard dog
Some of the other "odd" animals that live here also serve similar functions. For example, our odd guinea hens have a huge appetite for yellow jacket wasps. When they locate a nest in the ground, they'll gather around and snap up each wasp as it climbs out of the nest. They lay eggs and provide meat and merchantable feathers, but their primary role is insect control.
Since adding guineas to our flock, we've not had any noticeable yellow jacket problems in the main area -- and that's without resorting to any sprays or pesticides. And did I mention that guineas eat ticks and fleas? We don't like ticks and fleas -- guineas are good.
Similarly, we tolerate the peacock invasion because they're death on snakes. Windward never did have a problem with rattlesnakes, seeing only one or so a year, but since the peacocks moved in, given the eager way they seek out and eat them, the snakes keep well away from us.
A Guinea calling for its mate
At Windward you'll enjoy a remarkable opportunity to see these intermeshing animal system in operation, and come to see the role that they play in our lives, and the role we in theirs. It's stewardship at its best, and Windward wouldn't be Windward without them.