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.