Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.2 –

Analysis Permaculture Design by listing characteristics of components

The components of a total design for a site may range from simple technological elements to more complex economic and legal systems.

How are we to make decisions about the patterning and placement of our components (systems, elements, or assemblies)?

We can list what we know about the characteristics of any one component, and see where this leads us in terms of beneficial connections.


Principle of Self Regulation


The purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements or components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products, of other elements.”

To illustrate, we could select a homely and universally known component, a chicken. What do we know about this hen?


We can list its PRODUCTS (materials, behaviors, derived products), NEEDS (what the chicken requires to lead a full life), and BREED CHARACTERISTICS (the characteristics of this special kind of chicken, whether it be a Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, Hamburg, etc).

A broader classification would have only two categories: “outputs” and “inputs“.

Outputs are the yields of a chicken, inputs art its requirements in order to give those yields.


Before we list either, we should reflect on these latter categories:

  1. OUTPUTS, YIELDS or PRODUCTS are RESOURCES if they are used  productively, or can become POLLUTANTS, if not used, in a constructive way by some other part of the system.
  2. INPUTS, NEEDS, or DEMANDS have to be supplied, and if not  supplied  by other parts of the system, then EXTERNAL ENERGY or EXTRA WORK must be found to satisfy these demands.


A POLLUTANT is an output of any system component that is not being used productively by any other component of the system.

EXTRA WORK is the result of an input not automatically provided by another component of the system.

As pollution and extra work art both unnecessary results of an incompletely designed or unnatural system, we must be able to connect our component, in this case the chicken, to other components.


The essentials are:

  1. That the inputs needed by the chicken art supplied by other components in the system; and
  2. That the outputs of the chicken are used by other components (including people).

We can now list the characteristics of the chicken, as we know them.

Later, we can see how these need to be linked to other components to achieve our sell-regulated system, by a ground strategy of relative placement (putting components where they can serve each other).

1. Inputs (Needs) of the Chicken

  • Primary needs are food, warmth, shelter, water, grit, calcium, dust baths and other chickens.
  • Secondary needs are for a tolerable social and physical environment, giving a healthy life of moderate stress.

2. Outputs (Products and Behaviors) of the Chicken

  • Primary products are, for instance: eggs, feathers, feather dust, manure, various exhaled  or excreted  gases, sound and heat .
  • Derived products are many.

From eggs we can make a variety of foods, and derive albumen.
From feathers we can make dusters, insulation, bedding, rope and special manures.

Manure is used directly in the garden or combined with leaf and stern materials (carbon) to supply compost heat.

Composted an-aerobically, it supplies methane for a house.

Heat and gases both have a use in enclosed glasshouses and so on.

Our list of derived products is limited only by lack of specific information and by local needs for the products.

Behaviors: chickens walk, fly, perch, scratch, preen, mate, hatch eggs, care for young, form flocks of 20-30 individuals, and forage. They also process food to form primary products and to maintain growth and body weight.

  3. Intrinsics

Instrinsics art often defined as “breed characteristics”.

They are such factors as color, form, weight and how these affect behavior, space needed, and metabolism; how climate and soil affect that chicken; or what its tolerances or limits are in relation to heat, cold, predation and so on.

For instance, white chickens survive extreme heat, while thickly-feathered large dark chickens survive extreme cold. Heavy breeds (Australorps) cannot fly over a 1.2m fence, while lighter breeds (Leghorns) will clear it easily.

We can add much more to the above lists, but that will do to start with (you can add data to any component list as information comes in). See Figure 3.1.




To enable a design component to function, we must put it in the right place.

This may be enough for a living component, e.g. ducks placed in a swamp may take care of themselves, producing eggs and meat and recycling seeds and frogs.

For other components, we must also arrange some connections, especially for non-living components, e.g. a solar collector linked by pipes to a hot water storage. And we should observe and regulate what we have done.

Regulation may involve confining or insulating the component or guiding it by fencing, hedging, or the use of one-way valves. Once all this is achieved, we can relax and let the system, or this part of the system, self-regulate.


Having listed all the information we have on our component, we can proceed to placement and linking strategies which may be posed as questions:

  1. Of what use are the products of this particular component (e.g. the chicken) to theneeds of other components?
  2. What needs of this component are supplied by other components?
  3. Where is this component incompatible with other components?
  4. Where does this component benefit other parts of the system?

The answers will provide a plan of relative placement or assist the access or one component to the others.

We can choose our other components from some common elements of a small family farm where the family has stated their needs as a measure of self-reliance, not too much work, a lot of interest, and a product for trade (no millionaire could ask for more!)


The components we can bring to the typical small farm are:

  1. Structures: House, barn, glasshouse, chicken-house.
  2. Constructs: Pond, hedgerow, trellis, fences.
  3. Domestic Animals: Chickens, cows, pigs. sheep, fish.
  4. Land Use: Orchard, pasture, crop, garden, woodlot.
  5. Context: Market, labor, finance, skills, people, land available and cultural limits.
  6. Assemblies: Most technologies, machines, roads, and water systems.


We will not list the characteristics or all of these elements here, but will proceed in more general terms.

In the light of linking strategies, we know where we can’t put the chicken (in a pond, in the house of most societies, in the barn, and so on), but we can put the chicken in the barn, chicken-house, orchard, or with other components that either supply its needs or require its life products.

Our criteria for placement are that, if possible, such placement enables the chicken to function naturally, in a place where its functions are beneficial to the whole system.

If we want the chicken to work for us we must list the energy and material needs or the other elements, and see if the chicken can help supply those needs.



THE HOUSE needs food, cooking fuel, heat  in cold weather, hot water, lights, bedding, etc. It gives shelter and warmth for people. Even if the chicken is not allowed to enter, it can supply some of these needs (food. feathers, methane). It also consumes most food wastes coming from the house.


THE GLASSHOUSE needs carbon dioxide for plants, methane for germination, manure, heat, and water. It gives heat by day and food for people, with some wastes for chickens. The chicken can obviously supply many of these needs, and utilize most of the wastes. It can also supply night heat to the glasshouse in the form of body heat.


THE ORCHARD needs weeding, pest control, manure and some pruning. It gives food (as fruit and nuts), and provides insects for chicken forage. Thus, the orchard and the chickens seem to need each other, and to be in a beneficial and mutual exchange. They need only to be placed together.


THE WOODLOT needs management, fire control, perhaps pest control, some manure. It gives solid fuel, berries, seeds, insects, shelter, and some warmth. A beneficial interaction of chickens and woodlot is indicated.


THE CROPLAND needs ploughing, manuring, seeding, harvesting and storage or crop. It gives food for chickens and people. Chickens obviously have a part to play in this area as manure providers and cultivators (a large number of chickens on a small area will effectively clear all vegetation and turn the soil over by scratching).


THE PASTURE needs cropping, manuring and storage of hay or silage. It gives food for animals (worms and insects included).


THE POND needs some manure. It yields fish, water plants as food and can reflect light and absorb heat.

In such a listing, it becomes clear that many components provide the needs and accept the products or others.

However, there is a problem. On the traditional small farm the main characteristic is that nothing is connected to anything else, thus no component supplies the needs of others, in short, the average farm does not enjoy the multiple benefits of correct relative placement, or needful access of one system or component to another.

This is why most farms are rightly regarded as places of hard work and are energy-inefficient. See Figures 3.2 and 3.3

Figure 3.2    A Typical Small Farm:

(Villages and farms may contain all the placed in harmonious relationships to each other components for self-governance but unless these components are time, energy and resources are wasted. In this figure, unplanned and segregated systems all demand inputs.)


Figure 3.3   A Re-Designed Small Farm:

(In this figure many elements supply the energy inputs for others and the system can be largely self-regulating.)

Now, without inventing anything new, we can redesign the existing components to make it possible for each to serve others. See Figures 3.4 and 3.5

   Figure 3.4 Plan of the Non-integrated System in Figure 3.2


Just by moving the same components into a beneficial design assembly, we can ensure that the chicken, glasshouse or orchard is working for us, not us working for it.


If we place essential components carefully, in relation to each other, not only is our maintenance work minimized, but the need to import energies is greatly reduced, and we might expect a modest surplus for sale, trade, or export.

Such surplus results from the conversion of “wastes” into products by appropriate use.

The chicken-house heats (and is heated by) the glasshouse, and both are heated by the chimney. The chickens range in the orchard, providing manure and getting a large part of their food from orchard wastes and pests, and from interplants of woodlot or forest components. A glasshouse also heats the house, and part of the woodlot is a forage system and a shelter-belt.

Thus, sensible placements, minimizing work, have been made. Market and investment control have been placed in the house, together with an information service using a computer, which can link us to the world.

Each part of this sort of design will be dealt with in greater detail in this book, but a simple transformation such as we made from Figure 3.2 to Figure 3.3 is enough to show what is meant by functional design.

A great part of this design can be achieved, as it was here, by analytical method s unrelated to any real site conditions.

Note that before we actually implement anything, before we even leave our desk, we have developed a lot of good ideas about patterns and self-regulatory systems for a family farm.

It only remains to see if these are feasible on the ground, and if the family can manage to achieve them. This is the benefit of the analytical design approach: it can operate without site experience!


This is also its weakness.

Until the chicken is actually heating the greenhouse, manuring the orchard, or helping to produce methane for the house, our system is just information, or potential.

Until that chicken is actually in function, we have produced no real resources, nor have we solved any real problems on our family farm.

Information as a Resource

RESOURCES are practical and useful energy storages, while INFORMATION is only a potential resource, until it is put to use.

We must never confuse the assembling of information with making a real resource difference. This is the academic fallacy: “I think, therefore I have acted.”

Note also that we have arrived, analytically, at the need for cooperation within the system, and that any competition absorbs energy, hence consumes part of our slender resources.

Our ideal is to allow the free expression of all the beneficial characteristics of the chicken so that we avoid conflict and further regulate the system we have designed in light of real-life experience on the site.