regenerative agroforestry

Wild Chickens & Agriculture
Today, most modern systems of raising animals separate animals from their natural environment. In these systems, many of the cycles of nature which are beneficial to both animals and their environment are broken.

If planned and managed properly, agrosilvopastoral systems can enhance important cycles of nature such as nutrient cycling and balancing of insect populations while reducing energy intensive management techniques. The key is to integrate the natural needs, behaviors and products of animals with the environment provided by the agrosilvopastoral system in a way that maximizes the benefits to the animals and to the system as a whole.

Our property in St. Thomas had been poorly managed for years and was in dire need of proper management. It was also part of an old tropical fruit farm and had all the ingredients to become one again.

As our section of the island has a health population of wild chickens which have inhabited the island for hundreds of years they are fully integrated into the natural environment. So we planned to design our agrosilvopastoral system to use them to our advantage.

As we cleaned out the vines and other non-essential vegetation, we laid out our plots and fruit tree locations. Spreading a little chicken scratch around the area brought in the wild chickens to perform the cleaning process. Within a couple of weeks the areas we had upgraded to begin planting had been completely aerated and cleaned.

Agrosilvopastoral systems can have an excess of weedy undergrowth, fallen fruit or nuts and insect populations which are often controlled through human intervention--weed cutting, insect control, etc.

However once the plants went in and mulch applied, we found it was no problem in keeping the chickens in the various plots as they love going through the mulch on a regular basis, carrying out many of the maintenance functions including keeping the plots well aerated while supplying natural fertilization through their normal behavior.

Another advantage is the contention between the wild chickens and the iguanas. This harassment of the iguanas by the wild chickens has helped keep them out of our area. The iguanas seem perfectly happy using the higher ground of the Orange Guavaberry and Pigeonberry trees on our property, while avoiding the low lying areas frequented by the wild chickens thus minimizing agricultural damage without having to use extreme measures.

As these are wild chickens, we make no attempt to provide them with a coop or roosting place. We do supply them with a full feeder and fresh water so they can come and go as they please, but it also keeps them from wandering too far. We do provide nesting boxes for them which results in our collecting on average 50 eggs per month which is enough to fill our needs.

According to Mother Earth News, these wild chicken eggs have 1/3 less cholesterol and 1/4 less saturated fat than store bought eggs. They also have 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene.
See the difference yourself, free range egg is on the left and the commercial egg is on the right.

Catastrophic Event
The chickens’ built in sense for survival serves them well during times of extreme weather. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria passed over, we were surprised to see that every chicken had survived, including a clutch of 11 three-week-old chicks; and with the amount of rotting material now existing on the forest floor their presence was essential.

According to the World Health Organization cockroaches are proven or suspected carriers of the organisms causing: diarrhea; dysentery; cholera; leprosy; plague; typhoid fever; and viral diseases such as poliomyelitis.

In addition they carry the eggs of parasitic worms and may cause allergic reactions, including dermatitis, itching, swelling of the eyelids and more serious respiratory conditions.

Cockroaches are really high in protein and very nutritious, at least to a chicken. Once the chickens consumed their basic grains for the morning, rummaging through the green matter covering the yard was their next priority. They even started to follow me around the plot as I cleaned up the various building materials and waste, for every item I picked up uncovered a feast of bugs, beetles, and cockroaches for them to devour.

As the days passed by the cockroach explosion never happened on our property. In fact as time passed the number of cockroaches seen while working in the plot continued to fall as the chickens worked their magic.

Allowing chickens to freely roam throughout our managed habitats where they have regular access to a diverse diet rich in plants and insects and water, they control understory growth through foraging and scratching, eat large quantities of insects, and return the nutrients back to the system through their manure. In such an agrosilvopastoral system, the chickens’ behaviors and wastes play their natural role in what is a complex natural system. By using the natural cycles and wild chickens we can reduce human inputs to both the chickens and the plants.

Clearly, the introduction and management of any animal must be carefully thought out, to ensure that the right kinds of animals are introduced into the right environment.

When done right commingling the right animals within your agrosilvopastoral system can create highly productive crop production that requires less human intervention for maintenance and control.

Please read Caribbean Chickens ~ Maligned Mistreated Misunderstood for more information about this amazing animal.

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