Ack! I didn't notice your reply here a few months ago...busy times. You raise some good points, so I want to respond now.
Maybe people that have space to raise chickens should do that, as they can do so with far less difficulty and complication, and people with smaller properties could focus on high intensity crops, especially the kinds chickens tend to destroy. . .
I'm continuing to grapple with the question of how to manage the benefits of chickens vs their potential destruction of the garden and other food systems. Big caveat to my comments: we still haven't achieved a sustainable balance here (urban lot in Portland OR), so I'm still guessing at what would be viable. I'm not sure how you're defining "people that have space" vs "people with smaller properties", but in general I strongly believe in the value of integrating chickens into your food system for the synergies of making use of food wastes, cleaning up insects and "weed" seeds, preparation of beds, entertainment, and production of calorie-dense, human-labor-efficient food. The keys are designing your systems to integrate the chickens well, and not overstocking (I think we could run one hen per 1000 square feet here.)
We've gotten the site setup pretty well for wise integration (rotating chicken paddocks within a food forest - see my previous post for a link to details on the paddocks). But we failed again this year at keeping stocking levels low enough. I think most small-scale flocksters run into the problem of finding it much easier to add new hens than to remove (kill) old hens, so the flock size tends to creep up. Someone keeping chickens on a larger, more impersonal scale probably finds it easier to cull as necessary. But that's also a skill that small-scale flocksters will develop by necessity as availability and affordability of external inputs tighten up. When push comes to shove, people will learn to kill their oldest hens after 2 years or so of laying and bring in new replacement chicks to keep egg production up and a steady supply of meat, without depleting their land's carrying capacity.
It's easy enough to keep the chickens in zone 2 (in permaculture terms) planted with trees & shrubs & ground layer forage; while keeping your zone 1 garden separate for growing the high intensity crops, only bringing the chickens in seasonally or in chicken tractors to clean things up there. So unless someone has less than 3000 square feet to work with, I think there's room for chickens even on small properties. And yes, you lose some time efficiency since caring for 12 chickens is almost the same work as caring for 3...but if you've designed well, even caring for 3 yields a very favorable caloric return per human hour of labor.
I've become pretty concerned there's this huge rush out there with people digging up every last Mother Earth magazine and trying every last thing in them. [...] There's a reason that a lot of techniques get lost--it's not often that they don't work. Most of them do, which is why someone wrote an article about them. It's only after the fact that one figures out that while the technique works, it' doesn't pay, and well, there's the rub.
A lot depends on what your goals are: a fundamental difference between my approach and yours, Jay, is that I'm focused almost entirely on providing food & material needs, while you're integrating more market/cash-economy goals. Before I get to my real point, I should elaborate on this: my approach is definitely predicated on the ability to largely drop out of the cash economy in the first place, a combination of willingness to give up many conveniences (motorized vehicles & chainsaws for example), but even more so on being in a position to buy land for cash (the importation of capital you've mentioned), eliminating the payments of rent or mortgage that form the largest part of most people's serfdom to the system. (My being in this position comes largely from white male privilege, partly from pure luck, and partly from willingness to team up with other people with cash resources to live communally.)
This is not a criticism of your approach (I recognize that most people trying to make a transition to sustainable living will be in a position of greater ties to the cash economy than I'm choosing, and I love that you're pioneering an approach combining that with true sustainability.) Just a description from my different perspective: My goals allow me much more flexibility and freedom in terms of "what pays", since I only have to think in terms of "calories of food provided per hour" instead of "dollars per hour" which is tied up with still very cheap fossil fuels. At its most basic, I'm content with anything which results in gathering about 750 calories of food per hour, which is a *terrible* ratio if you're still tied to a cash economy where even a low-paying job netting $6 per hour can buy you thousands of calories per hour. So if you're in a position of needing cash, then you do have to prioritize the highest time-efficiency and cash-rewarding tasks.
All that said, even in the context of cash economy involvement, I wouldn't dismiss old Mother Earth News articles so easily. Many of the ideas & techniques probably made economical sense in the 70s but stopped making sense in the 80s & 90s with the resurgence of cheap energy and were lost because they couldn't compete in that financial climate, but make sense again now, or will very soon. So I think it's reasonable to mine those old ideas, experiment, and integrate into modern contexts.
Hey Norris, doesn't it seem that in the "bug bucket" you're actually losing a lot of valuable nutrition? Sure, you're growing maggots but I'm sure a 1lb of roadkill(at X calories) can only produce 1lb or so of maggots(at X - whatever the bugs consume for metabolism.) [...] But it seems to me that if you compost the scraps you have the potential for feeding something that can actually create a value add--a plant, right?
I don't think you're losing nutrients via the maggot system, but definitely some energy via metabolic losses. But I would guess that you're going to have similar metabolic losses anyway in a compost pile or burying a carcass in the ground, where all the life there is breaking down the inputs and breathing off CO2. And after the chickens eat the maggots, the energy & nutrients they didn't put into eggs or their own life functions still comes out as poop for plants.
It's easy to forget that plants alone create calories from sunlight--
animals only concentrate them, and pretty inefficiently-- and that's got
to be key of the design.
True, animal concentration of energy is "inefficient" in terms of plant calories in and human usable animal product calories out. But if the animals are integrated into a system their "wastes" are feeding other elements, and it's no longer "inefficient", but simply a functioning ecosystem. Further, I'm finding the "energy concentration" function of our animals *hugely* important here--half our calorie harvest comes from animal products (mostly eggs & honey, with some chicken meat), but require only about 20% of the time we spend maintaining & harvesting from our food systems. They give us by far the best ratio of human time to food return. So given that your system is set up with plants to utilize all the available sunlight (filling their super-important role as primary converters of sunlight into usable energy), the real question becomes how to integrate animals to perform necessary ecosystem functions (saving humans from that labor) and provide you with high-quality, low-input, concentrated calories & protein.
I'd sure as hell concern myself with potential disease vectors, as well.
Good point...my understanding of parasites in temperate areas is that if you keep chickens on well vegetated land with good diet and rotate them around, then birds should stay healthy with a balanced, small parasite load. Stressed birds, or build-up of too many parasite eggs/propagules in the chicken run lead to their getting overwhelmed. I would guess the tropics are similar, but especially in Hawaii with the fairly chaotic shifting dynamics of new introductions of life, I can understand needing to take more precautions.
Anyone else with parasite experience? I'd love to learn more about "gotchas" of Hawaii.