Saturday, 16 June 2012

The true nature of sustainability@home

Sustainability at home.  The idea of this is based on a romantic ideal, the return to a better world, one  rooted in the soil, living enriched lives with our children who chase chooks and gather eggs while we pick apples for a good old fashioned home baked pie. Roll out those neat ordered rows of vegies like custom made wallpaper of our sustainability dreams. Yeah, right.

Until recently  I’ve had just a few, small, relatively short lived crisis’s of sustainability faith, but then I chanced upon an advertisement  and it changed me.

The advertisement’s for a scheme where you can rent a chook and a portable chook pen  to set up in your backyard. So far, so good. It’s the rest of the ad that had me reeling. Now you’ve rented your chook, you’ll need a chook leash, you know, to take it for a walk. Hmmm, that’s weird and contrary to the nature of the average chook. Can’t imagine they’ll take to that in a hurry. But it’s the next part that had me.  We all know that chooks are famous for pooping.  To avoid the embarrassment of a gloopy poopy you can purchase chook nappies. It was right there in black and white, chook nappies. That’s when I realised that this whole concept of sustainability at home had simply got out of hand. I know people want to make a living, and they’re great at coming up with ingenious ways to reduce our water use while creating an income, and for the most part these are commendable.  But the chook nappy - it opened my eyes. I am no longer the same person because of the chook nappy. The chook nappy is crappy.  To mix my birds, it’s the canary in the cage, the feathered aviarian that tells us that things are not well in the mainstream, backyard push for a sustainable lifestyle.

So I figure this is a great opportunity to address this issue. Usually I write about my family’s adventure in backyard sustainability, where we challenged ourselves to go six months  without spending a dollar on food, power, water, fuel or basically anything but pay the mortgage, rates, insurances while living on a suburban block.  We did that in Queensland in 2005. We did bizarre things like grow our own toilet paper, eat garden snails, kept a goat in the backyard and even went without chocolate.  We wrote about it in the book Living the Good Life,   it details the ups and down’s of the six months, lots of recipes and facts, a row of raves designed to enlighten and enliven, even maybe make you laugh. It doesn’t romanticise sustainability and there’s not one chook nappy involved.

Instead I’m writing about the Ten popular misconceptions of a sustainable lifestyle.

Myth One - Everyone loves animals, it’s great to raise your own.

Animals bust down fences, fly over them, poke holes in them with their heads, they lean on them, they dig under them, they can lift gates off hinges, and snap 6 inch batten screws.  All because they love the things that we love to eat, and with half a chance they will scratch them out of the ground, and annihilate them in less time than it takes you to grab your pitchfork. Repeatedly.

Anyone who thinks those nice white fluffy  sheep are peaceful creatures should see mine. They’re noisy, insistent, greedy, they’re forever sorting out their pecking order with the goats. You can hear it while you’re in the garden.  The kind of thud you feel through your feet the same time you do your ears. The goats ate the blackberries. Our block was so overgrown that several cars were later found  buried deep in them.  Kind of a house sale bonus –the cars are now gone, and so are the blackberries. The goats ate the blackberries, but not the cars.  Which was great, but they’ve also  ring barked my sugar maples. One goat, let’s call her Peg, is so smart she can open gates and take the lids off buckets. She did this recently. Apart from having a big feed herself, she let all the sheep in too and they almost ate themselves to death. Pegs smart.  But the pigs weren’t about to be outdone.  They must have witnessed this transgression and decided on one of their own. You’ve  got to respect them for their ability to upend a battery on the wrong side of the electric fence and break out. Being shorter in nature, they didn’t even bother with trying to outwit the latch, a pig, let’s call her Browny, stuck her nose under the shed door and, well now it kind of hangs there a sad and buckled testament to our failed understanding of a pigs strength.

Pigs are not delicate creatures. When  Browny got into the shed she too wanted to remove the feed bin lids. So she trampled them till their poor buckled sides gave and the bucket lids popped off. She scoffed sufficient food to feed several tribes of starving Africans in five minutes.  Pigs are amazing animals, they tell you they plough your paddock for you, and they do. But you have to put a formidable amount of food into their tank for them to keep up the good work.  They also turned me into someone out of a hill billy movie. Because I can now soo-eeee! like the best of them. And when they coming running downhill towards you at great speed you worry about your kneecaps.

Our nappiless chooks, are past masters at seedling removal. And I’ll never forget the time I put them in the paddock with all my lovely tall sunflowers and looked out to see them like jumping beans, leaping up and pecking out the hearts. And you don’t want to get me started on about ducks.  I have ducks that have a 90% to 10% fart to duck ratio. It’s outrageous and while I’m ducking for cover I can’t help thinking of all the methane production.

Animals are not easy.

Tomorrow: Myth two - Gardening is easy – sow the seeds in a row, watch em grow.


Crunchie's Mum said...

Then there are geese who poop just 20 minutes after eating and they eat a LOT. They love grass but like your seedlings better. Their favourite place to sit and poop - why the front door step of course! Did I mention they pick on the dog? On the upside they look majestic stretching those wings and have individual personalities and come to meet us when we get home (yes they are looking for food but its still nice to be wanted).

knutty knitter said...

Baby lambs are wonderful - pet sheep - not so much! I'm all for giving them a good life but there comes a time when you just have to give them up or risk permanent damage to your knees etc. Ours mostly became christmas dinner (although our parents never let on :)

Same with chooks - there is a reason one of ours is called Houdini!

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

Ah yes. Our fruit trees keep on being demolished every time the goats get out. We have finally locked up the chooks in a large run, but it does mean we have to be more proactive in giving them lots of green stuff. At least though they are now safe from the dog, but not yet safe from wedge tails.

Some of the chooks are nasty. The rescue ISA's like to strip the leg feathers from the Faverolles. Oh and I am sure they cost more in feed than what we get in eggs at the moment.

The thing you have not touched on is dealing with a sick animal. It is all warm and fuzzy till a chick hatches that is not quite right, or an old chook get fly blown, or when a goat goes down. Not pleasant getting out the axe or the rifle. If hubby is not home and wont be soon, then I have to rely on one of our neighbours.

Wombat said...

Sounds like the beginnings of a new book...

Living the good life, an animals eye view, a complete guide to upsetting your pet human.

Beznarf27 said...

ROTFL! Forgive the textspeak there, I would generally run a mile but it seems in context with the total negation of reality that seems to have set in with the "Sustainably uber green" set that live in the city/towns and have NO idea about how hard, disgusting and disheartening life on a small property can be. Don't get me wrong...I wouldn't trade what we have for quids but you just told it like it is sista! We don't have goats, sheep or pigs (probably won't ever do so after your most honest post ;) ) but we DO have methane producing ducks that ate my expensive succulent collection (collected when we were living in suburbia with very few representitives left...sigh) and our chooks rule the roost, crowing, pecking, fighting, occasionally giving us an egg but usually laying them out in the shrubs so the crows are the only ones that get the advantages of our desire to feed them top grade organic chook food...sigh... the sad thing is that most of them won't read this post! I am going to share you on my facebook page... I too get people saying "how lucky" we are and "I am SO envious!"...come stay with us for a bit, help us build our compost heap...try to keep the chook "nitrogen" off your feet and you can hold that rooster down while we chop his head off for your "free range chicken tea" and see if you don't back shellshocked and terrified out the back door muttering excuses all the way! Cheers for your honesty and a really good laugh. I loved your book and now I have found you again (not stalking time ;) ) in the state that we curiously moved to 4 years ago, its great to call you a fellow interloping homesteading jaded and most sarcastic fellow "New Tasmanian" (you aren't allowed to be called a Tasmanian unless you have lived here 120 years...). Looking forward to the gardening post :)

Chris said...

I think the chicken nappies are aimed at people who like to treat their feathered friends like domestic pets. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, it's just not required for regular chickens that poop where they eat and poop where they sleep.

I already talk to my chickens, nappies would make me look a tad obsessed I think, LOL. ;)