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poultry in the orchard

Posted by Karen Cook 
poultry in the orchard
January 18, 2013 03:12PM
I have just started reading about holistic orchard management and am very excited. This is the direction we have been trying to go but until stumbling across Michael Phillip's book and this site, have been just trying things that seemed right...

My husband and I have about 1/2 acre of asian pears, pears, plums, heartnuts, hazelnuts and berries. We live in Eastern Ontario, Canada, about 1 hour north of Syracuse NY. The orchard is about 1/4 mile from the farmhouse. The first year we raised geese in the orchard to keep grass down, fertilize and keep deer away. Last year we ran portable chicken pens through the orchard.

Another project we undertook last year (again, completely clueless, but it seemed good...) was to create a compost berm using coffee grounds and filters from our local coffee shop, cardboard and red wiggler worms. We also mixed the chicken bedding in when we cleaned the brooder. We hoped that the compost tea will help the orchard and the excess worms would provide high protein food for the poultry.

These ideas were just ideas we heard about and tried - they seemed right. Could I get some feedback on if these are management practices we should continue, stop or make changes to.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/18/2013 03:14PM by Karen Cook.
Re: poultry in the orchard
January 29, 2013 07:07AM
We think running poultry (and other animals) in an orchard makes a lot of sense. We have found chickens really do help to control insects and turn them into fertilizer, as well as providing eggs. Geese do help to control grasses, but we have found they also love to eat fruit, and their grazing height in a fruit tree is almost as high as for sheep.

Running small herbivores (eg. geese, Southdown sheep (original strain), rabbits, wallabies or guinea pigs?) to turn weeds into manure for the trees is far preferable to burning fossil fuels to mow grass, or using "organic" herbicides. However the design of the trees may have to be adapted to allow for the grazing height of the herbivore(s) being used.

Protecting small herbivores/insectivores from predators is an issue. We use Maremma dogs to keep away the foxes with real success, but goshawks and ravens will take a lot of chickens if they are let out while too young.

Integrating animals into the production system, as was done in the past, really is the way of the future. Each of our situations is unique, so it's best to keep an open mind, try lots of things and see what works!
Re: poultry in the orchard
February 11, 2013 08:36PM
Sounds like you are trying some really great avenues. We try to treat our orchard as much like a natural ecosystem as possible, given that it's an artificial collection of parts. The more we mimic natural systems the better they are likely to function. Animals can provide fertilizer, bug control, grazing, and lots of other services in your orchard, as you have done already. I can't see any reason you would stop any of the practices you've tried unless you run into any problems. We run sheep in the rows to eat grass and fertilize, we feed apples to the animals, and compost their bedding to spread in the orchard.

Keep on experimenting!
Jen & Steve
Re: poultry in the orchard
February 13, 2013 05:23PM
Creating a full ecosystem out there in the orchard is surely the way to go, and farmstead animals have a place in it for sure. We ran our chickens under trees for years, and it did seem to cut down on some pest pressures as well as adding free fertilizer. We did find it important to give them a large area or they would scratch out the soil near young tree roots. When we let them reign free on the property they would completely unearth the blueberries, so we began limiting their kingdom. In my tours as a consultant I have seen good sized trees upended by pigs, orchards killed outright by goats, and roots severed and crushed by cow hooves. I have also seen good results with animals as well, but be constantly on guard and give them plenty of space. In a homestead situation, animal rotations out there are an important part of the orcharding equation in our opinion.

Now, for those who are doing things on a commercial level need to be aware of the limits. Animals in the orchard are discouraged by the USDA in general, including certified organic farms. (Please note I am not siding with these regulatory bodies who generally miss the point of healthy systems). The USDA both advises exclusion of farm animals, and natural wildlife when possible. GAP regulations also exclude domestic animals like Rover (aside from service animals). Since live animals produce fresh manure, there are other limitations. Regulations are for 120 days to have elapsed from manure spreading and harvest.

Anyone who is the least bit health conscious is going to keep a good distance between the poo and the plate, and don’t need regulatory bodies telling them how. But, we need to keep wise. The ladder phenomenon for instance, in which a farmer steps in manure and walks up a ladder rung and then grabs those same rungs with his hands, is going to contaminate those apples sure enough. My opinion then is the animals get their turn well before, and then after harvest. Fruit should be cleaned if it hangs low where fecal dust could linger. Drops should be relegated to the hard cider bin or for cooking only.
Re: poultry in the orchard
February 19, 2013 07:02AM
Todd, it is a good point you make about the manure issue.
We run poultry in the orchard all year at a very low stocking rate, and avoid contamination of the fruit by placing the 400kg fruit bin on a pallet so no manure can contact the base of the bin, so manure doesn't end up in the water dump when the apples are floated out. We don't pick up any fruit from the ground, and we don't use ladders as we are reasonably tall and our trees are reasonably low.
Re: poultry in the orchard
July 24, 2016 07:57AM
Has anyone out there tried Muscovy ducks to control grass in their orchard?
We recently got a few to try, as we think they may be "the answer". Apparently they eat lots of grass, don't scratch up the mulch like chooks do (we're using Australorps), and they can't reach as high as geese (who love apple blossom, small green apples and ripe apples). We have a Maremma with them to keep foxes away, and so far so good.

Kalangadoo Orchard
On the “other side” in South Australia
Re: poultry in the orchard
July 22, 2017 03:22PM
Any recommendations on encouraging ducks to forage? I have a muscovy duck and drake and their 9 two-month old ducklings in my citrus orchard. I've been free feeding them since the ducklings were growing, but now in thinking I may need to start portioning out their food cause they are pretty lazy and love their expensive feed! Any tips?
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