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Farm Critters in the Orchard

Posted by Mike Biltonen 
Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 25, 2015 09:17AM
I'm working with a client that wants livestock in the orchard they are planting. Are there are animals and/or breeds that are particularly suited to meadow orchard style plantings....that don't eat the trees and do more good than others? Especially thinking about sheep -- and ones that are good for cheese milk and meat.

Mike Biltonen, Know Your Roots
Zone 5b in New York
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 25, 2015 09:30AM
I knew an orchardist who had sheep in his orchard. He raved about the way the sheep maintained excellent sanitation. I hope to some day add sheep to my orchard. My understanding is that sheep don't do the damage to fruit trees that goats do, although good to protect very young trees anyway. Great question!
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 25, 2015 08:07PM
Traditional cider apple orchards in Normandy were always also used for cows.
They however grow high stem trees on standard roots, with a 2 meter trunk before first branches. Also trunks are protected by a guard. Note that Normandy is reknowned for the quality of its milk, milk products and in particular cheese... Camembert, Pont Levesque, and many others. There is also pretty good cider out there!
Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 26, 2015 04:07PM
I know sheep can do well in the orchard but be forewarned that they have the habit of chewing bark and rubbing their horns on the trees. I had sheep in my orchard for only three days before I decided they were doing more damage than good. Since I only have two sheep I still bring them into the orchard during the day then back to their pasture at night so they don't get into as much mischief.


Jeb Thurow
Zone 7 (Feels like zone 20)
Yelm Wa
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 27, 2015 02:39AM
Mike, there is a few relevant posts in the "Poultry in the orchard" thread in this Ecosystem Connections section.

Sheep, and especially older sheep, will eat leaves, buds, twigs and immature bark on apple trees (not to mention fruit!). The grazing height of sheep is not generally as high as for goats, but some sheep will stand on their back legs and graze the trees way too high. The original strain of Southdown sheep have short legs and don't graze as high as most other breeds.

The problem is the bigger the herbivore that is used, the bigger the trees need to be, and the longer you will spend up a ladder. If you want to keep off ladders, you must reduce the size of the herbivore, and then predators become the problem. What to do?!

Kalangadoo Orchard
On the “other side” in South Australia



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/27/2015 08:47PM by Michelle & Chris McColl.
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 27, 2015 11:11AM
Quote
Our Australian friends wrote :
The problem is the bigger the herbivore that is used, the bigger the trees need to be, and the longer you will spend up a ladder. If you want to keep off ladders, you must reduce the size of the herbivore, and then predators become the problem. What to do?!

Very true, and it must be said that the cider apple orchards in Normandy are not picked - the trees are shaked and the apples are taken on the ground - hence the height of the tree isn't an issue in those circumstances.

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 27, 2015 11:39AM
All very helpful, thanks. In addition to researching specific breeds of pigs, chickens, or other orchard-friendly animals, I am contemplating exclusion devices to keep the animals off the trees so that the canopy isnt 20 feet in the air -- thoughts on that topic? I was recently sent this response in regards to pigs. I think for pigs, mulefoots, american guinea hogs and gloucestershire old spots (GOS) are probably the best bet. The mulefoots and GOS get bigger, but I really do like these AGHs. In the UK, they use shropshire sheep.
Are there other animals/livestock that could be orchard-friendly?

Mike Biltonen, Know Your Roots
Zone 5b in New York
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
June 27, 2015 09:09PM
On the question of pigs digging up the ground and uprooting trees - we have a couple of Wessex Saddleback pigs, who are inclined to dig up the ground in search of worms, crickets, earth grubs, etc. They would unquestionably destroy young apple trees, but we have never given them the opportunity. Our pigs are fed mostly apples, apple pommace and a little grain/faba beans. (High carbohydrate, low protein).

We have seen fat pigs on green pastures elsewhere that do not dig up the ground at all. We think this has a lot to do with what and how much they are being fed - if they have a high protein diet, and plenty of it, it seems they can't be bothered digging for worms and grubs. So they probably wouldn't uproot small apple trees - they would just push them over by rubbing and scratching against the trunks!
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
July 02, 2015 07:42AM
Back to sheep - Michelle was speaking on the phone to a bloke named Matthew from Tasmania yesterday. He runs Wiltshire Horn sheep in his orchard without too many problems - he said if you give the sheep dietary supplements, salt licks or whatever they need, they don't really show much interest in the twigs and buds of apple trees - so it is possible. This sort of ties in with our previous post about pigs sometimes digging and sometimes not digging.

We are going to Tasmania in two weeks to meet a group of organic apple growers. Will get a few more details about running sheep in apple orchards then, and hopefully a few more participants in this forum.

Kalangadoo Orchard
On the “other side” in South Australia
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
February 13, 2016 05:00PM
We have been grazing sheep in a 4.5 acre semi-dwarf block of our orchard for the past 6ish years. They rotate in late October/early November after we have finished harvesting the block, and they do a wonderful job cleaning windfalls and helping to manage the ground cover while also adding to soil health.

The breed we chose is Black Welsh Mountain - they are small and generally can't reach up into the canopy. They also produce beautiful fleece and delicious meat. As far as tree damage goes: they only strip bark on rare occasions, and I have never seen them go after buds. That being said, we did forget to cage some new plantings in the block this past fall before they went in, and they did strip bark from those young trees. I wouldn't recommend grazing sheep in a dwarf block, unless you have plenty of protection. We also flash graze them in our 1 acre table grape vineyard in the spring and it has worked beautifully.

We don't have high hopes for continuing this practice (although of course we'd like to!) -- there was a post on another thread in the forum that brings up the US Government frowning upon such practices, and with the implementation of the FSMA, we are anticipating inspectors asking us to stop. We shall see.

Door Creek Orchard
Zone 5a in Wisconsin



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/30/2018 08:40AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
February 07, 2018 02:52AM
So far, we have tried geese, chickens, pigs, and sheep in our 10 acre, semi-dwarf orchard. Geese were good at mowing and fertilizing, but too obnoxious to be around and are poor at reproducing. Chickens are great at eating bugs, grass, and fertilizing. Both chickens and geese require predator control, at least for us. Pigs (Old spots) were not a good match. They tilled any area they were put in and needed to be excluded from the trees as to not do damage by rubbing and chewing. Currently we have a small herd of baby doll sheep. They are great grazers but have been nibbling, sometime significantly on tree trunks (most of our trees are about 6-7 years old). They do some nibbling of branches, but that saves some pruning for us. They will eat fruit, both on the tree and on the ground. We are working on training them to repellants so they won't chew on trunks, but unless we can figure that out, we will have to keep excluding them from tree trunks.
Hope this information helps!

Rachel Ashley
Silvernail Farm & Orchard
Philomath, ORE
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
February 28, 2018 01:17AM
I think the breed of sheep matters, some are more inclined to browsing, especially hair sheep (such as Khatadin). However, we have had severe damage done by our wool sheep, who got into our orchard in error, to the bark of 3 year old trees on M-111 and B-118 trees in about 2 hours. This was in summer when there was plenty of grass and other forage for them to eat. They eat leaves, twigs, strip bark, etc. They stand on their hind legs and break branches with their front feet trying to get at the leaves. Now I only graze in winter and spring, prior to buds breaking, with the supervision of myself and my trained herding dog. Chickens DIG. Geese girdled a young tree, stripped the bark as high as they could reach. We may try ducks this year smiling smiley I dislike mowing but loosing a tree to a grazer is worse. IMO

Vista Ridge Orchard
Zone 8a in Washington
235 Cider and heritage apple trees, 72 varieties,
Re: Farm Critters in the Orchard
March 29, 2018 10:45PM
I'm really happy to see this thread revived - our whole farm vision revolves around incorporating sheep into the orchard, and we've done a bunch of reading about it but still haven't found anything totally conclusive. As Michelle/Chris mentioned, a common thread in everything we've read is the need to provide adequate minerals and salts and ensure that they have access to lots of tasty grass. In addition, multiple sources have pointed to Shropshire sheep (as Mike noted) as being particularly good at ignoring branches and bark and focusing instead on the grass available.

We're planting our first 300 trees in April (weather pending!) - 100 apples on mainly MM.111 and B.118, and 200 hybrid chestnut crosses - and then buying 14 Shropshire sheep in July. I'll have a full report for y'all by year's end!

Also re: pig breeds, we've been hearing good things about Kunekune pigs - they're said to subsist on grass alone and don't root. (I imagine that, being omnivores like us, in reality they'll need more than just grass - but their upturned snouts supposedly do get in the way of rooting.)

Willet, NY (Zone 5a)
100 semi-dwarf trees to be planted April 2018
(Farm name TBA)
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