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Permaculture • Homesteading • Organic Gardening • Self Sufficiency • Sustainability

Can Permaculture Be Done Without Animals? (Here’s The Answer)

Domesticated animals are a common sight in permaculture systems. But is it possible to practice permaculture without animals? Fortunately, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’!

Chicken and Garden

Permaculture systems can be designed and managed without domesticated animals. Plant-based strategies can fulfill the same functions usually performed by animals in permaculture systems, including processing organic wastes, providing soil fertility, controlling plant pests, and generating income.  

There are many benefits from having livestock in a permaculture system, but there is no unbreakable rule that commands the use of animals in every permaculture system! Let’s consider some ways to practice permaculture successfully without any animals.

Practicing Permaculture Without Animals

Animals are often integral elements in permaculture systems. Nonetheless, permaculture is ultimately a conceptual framework of design principles that can be applied successfully without domestic livestock. 

Animals do a considerable amount of work in permaculture systems, so practicing permaculture without animals requires alternative ways of fulfilling the functions that might usually be accomplished by animals. To understand how this can be achieved, let’s first review the key roles that animals serve in permaculture systems:

  • soil fertility and conditioning – animals contribute nutrient-rich manure that enhances soil fertility and structure, and animals also improve soil structure by digging and turning the soil,
  • products for income – animals provide an income stream, for example, when sold live, or as raw and processed food products,
  • pest control – animals control mammal and insect pests that may damage plant crops,
  • grass mowing – grazing livestock keeps lawns and grasslands neat and healthy.

On a homestead or farm-scale permaculture system, plant-based permaculture systems must find ways to accomplish these functions without animals. The extent to which this may be possible depends on the specific situation. However, in many cases, the following strategies can help replace animals in permaculture systems:

  • soil fertility and conditioning – plant-based manures, cover-cropping, composting, and vermicomposting can provide soil fertility, and cover-crops can also improve soil structure and aeration,
  • products for income – plants can be sold as raw and processed food items and as wholesale or retail nursery stock,
  • pest control – designing ecologically diverse systems can invite beneficial insects and wild animals can keep insect pests in check,
  • grass mowing – human labor or machine power is needed to maintain grassed areas in a healthy and visually-pleasing condition.

Now that we have a  general rough idea about how permaculture can be practiced without animals, it might be worth considering some plant-based permaculture strategies in greater detail. Let’s take a closer look at soil fertility and condition, as this is the cornerstone of most permaculture systems.

Enhancing Soil Health, Structure And Fertility With Plants

Animals often play a very central role in the maintenance of healthy, productive soil in permaculture systems. This role can, however, be served by living and decomposing plants. There are many ways to use plants to maintain and improve soil health, structure, and fertility in permaculture systems:

It is worth noting that beneficial micro and macro-organisms play a central part in these methods. In this sense, animals are involved here, but we’re talking about tiny organisms like bacteria, fungi, arthropods, nematodes, and earthworms, rather than cows, chickens, and sheep.

Photo of a comfrey plant

Chop-And-Drop

Plants are cut and laid over bare soils and around the base of plants as mulch. The mulch slowly decomposes and returns fertility to the soil. The chop-and-drop method is quick and easy to do and allows plants to be fed by mulch that contains the same nutrient profile required by those plants.

Cover Crops

Growing cover crops is a highly effective way to maintain healthy soil structure and fertility. Cover-crops perform multiple functions to improve soil quality:

  • living mulch layer – cover crops provide a living mulch that shades and protects the soil from erosion, excessive heat, and water evaporation,
  • feeding soil organisms – the roots of cover-crops exude carbohydrates that feed beneficial bacteria and fungi,
  • source of nutrients and minerals – nitrogen-fixing legumes and other types of cover-crops can also bring fertility to the soil when chopped and dropped or composted.

Composting

Animal manure and other byproducts are nutrient-rich and freely available base ingredients in compost-making. Nonetheless, plant-based materials can be just as valuable and accessible inputs for making compost. There are myriad ways to make compost, and most of these methods can be performed successfully without animal-derived ingredients.

The contribution of plant-based composting to soil fertility in permaculture systems can be greatly enhanced by using probiotic inputs such as fermented plants and cultured beneficial micro-organisms.

Generating Income In Permaculture Without Animals

Animals often make a central contribution to the financial viability of permaculture systems by generating multiple sources of income. It is, however, still possible for permaculture systems to make money without animals. 

Plant-Based Strategies For Generating Income 

Plants can make a significant economic contribution to permaculture systems. One of the most common ways to make money from plants in permaculture systems is to grow and sell fresh and value-added organic produce. Potential outlets for fresh and processed plant products typically include:

  • farmers’ markets,
  • per-ordered deliveries for community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs,
  • local restaurants and supermarkets.
Farmers Market

Growing high-value, rare or exotic plants to sell as nursery and seed stock is another viable strategy for generating an income in permaculture systems. 

It is relatively inexpensive to produce and sell nursery and seed stock. Plant propagation techniques can turn one plant or seed into thousands of new plants and seeds. These products can be sold on-site and through online retail platforms.

Additional Income-Generation Strategies

Plants aren’t the only basis for making money in permaculture systems that don’t have animals. Common alternatives include:

  • fee-based permaculture educational programs and tours.
  • self-catering accommodation.
  • selling compost and vermicompost products.

There are many other varied ways to generate income in permaculture systems without animals. Plant-based permaculture can be economically viable and profitable by thinking creatively and capitalizing on available resources and market opportunities.

Conclusion

Permaculture systems can be designed and implemented successfully without the use of animals. The design principles of permaculture can be applied in any physical context, regardless of whether there are animals present or not.

While animals perform several crucial functions in farm and homestead-scale permaculture systems, there are ways to fulfill these functions that don’t involve domestic livestock.

With the use of plant-based soil fertility and income generation strategies, permaculture systems can enhance soil health and productivity while also securing the financial viability of the systems.

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