Orchard Chickens, a Theoretical Question

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by 3KillerBs, Aug 6, 2009.

  1. 3KillerBs

    3KillerBs Songster

    Jul 10, 2009
    North Carolina Sandhills
    OK, I'm not allowed chickens here in town and my DH's orchard is still a dream on that same, non-existent country place where I have to keep my laying hens for now. But information is never useless and I thought I'd ask about something we were pondering.

    I have read that chickens are very helpful in the orchard -- protecting the fruit from the various bugs that like the stuff as well as we humans do. I have even seen claims that chickens are more effective at controlling some pests than spraying.

    And the information I've gotten about choosing breeds for keeping in small spaces indicates that some of the most visually appealing breeds -- Spangled Hamburgs, Lakenvelders, Fayoumis, and similar smaller, "active", breeds with what I can only call elegant posture and feathering -- don't give off that cuddly, placid, backyard chicken vibe.

    I was wondering,

    Would the very qualities that make them less desirable as placid pets make them superior orchard guards?

    Does anyone use chickens in this way to protect fruit trees? If so, do you find any particular breeds especially effective?

    I appreciate any input anyone may have.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  2. Uppity Peon

    Uppity Peon Songster

    I think it sounds like a great idea!

    I am new to chickens but I can see from my flock that they prefer the trees to the open parts of the yard, and they love to scratch around looking for bugs.

    If you can keep them safe from predators and get them laying in your nests, I can't imagine a happier flock of chickens and people.
  3. saddina

    saddina Internally Deranged

    May 2, 2009
    Desert, CA
    I'd think that you would want chickens without: feathered legs (less scratching), white feathers (white is easier for predators to spot), head plumage (polish and such may not be able to see as well with feathers in the way). So long as you can keep them safe (hotwire fence) it sounds reasonable.
  4. K8tieCat

    K8tieCat Songster

    Jan 15, 2007
    Northern California
    When I first got my girls, I got them for bug patrol. They are hired every evening to do their job. I pay them by taking good care of them, and now they are pets as well. They like me so well, they give me eggs, and it just keeps on going from there.

    They are bug machines!

    I have a huge veggie garden, apple tree, apricot tree and grapes. That isn't an orchard, but it's enough for me and the girls do a great job.
  5. mountaintopchicken

    mountaintopchicken Songster

    May 23, 2007
    I used to work in tree fruit research for a university extension service.

    Is this going to be a commercial orchard, or only for your use?

    The reason I ask, is that for most commercial orchardists animals in the orchard are frowned upon due to e. coli risks and risk of other contamination. It is because of fear of contamination from feces (from either wild or domestic animals) that orchard owners are no longer allowed to sell dropped apples for human consumption, and that cider is now mostly flash pasteurized instead of sold raw. It seems like it would especially be an issue where chickens can fly into the trees and roost there, and might leave droppings on the fruit.

    If the fruit is for your own use, no problem - the risk is entirely yours. But for a commercial orchard, its a liability issue.

    That said, though, I have would think it would be much less of an issue if chickens were run through orchards after the fruit has been harvested.
  6. SimplyForties

    SimplyForties Songster

    May 4, 2009
    Carroll County, Va
    This isn't going to help you as far as breeds are concerned but I remember reading an article somewhere (Mother Earth News?) many, many years ago about a great chicken setup. These people had a small orchard, maybe an acre or less, all fenced, with the chicken coop in the center. The birds free-ranged in the orchard during the day. It's probably been more than 20 years since I read that article and, with everything I've read since, it's stuck with me.

    I know this isn't what you are talking about but I could imagine a very small area, maybe 1/4 acre and dwarf fruit trees set up in this way. I think it's a great idea!
  7. Renee'

    Renee' Songster

    Feb 8, 2009
    Yucaipa, CA
    If the fruit is low the chickens will peck the fruit. At least mine do anyway. [​IMG]
  8. 3KillerBs

    3KillerBs Songster

    Jul 10, 2009
    North Carolina Sandhills
    Our dream is a homesteadish place with a roadside stand to sell our surplus production. We may go to farmers markets as well.

    E. coli never crossed my mind as I've always despised the mindset behind the laws that ruined cider -- all because some people were too dumb/lazy/irresponsible to wash the fruit.

    I haven't bought a single gallon of cider since the nanny-state decided to punish the innocent producers along with the guilty ones and to completely remove real cider from the market. Once its been pasteurized its nothing but apple juice and I can buy that as frozen concentrate for 1/4 of the price.

    It seems that there would be very little point to running the chickens in the orchard when there wasn't any fruit since the point of having the chickens in the orchard would be to eat the pests that would be destroying the fruit.
  9. SimplyForties

    SimplyForties Songster

    May 4, 2009
    Carroll County, Va
    When there was no fruit on the trees the orchard would just be the chicken's free-range area, same as anywhere. Good balance of sun and shade and good protection from overflying predators. I think it's a good dual use of the space, as opposed to having some land devoted to chickens and some land devoted to orchard.

    Renee - good point about low hanging fruit!
  10. Happy Chooks

    Happy Chooks Free Ranging

    Jul 9, 2009
    Northern CA
    My Coop
    I have an orchard (13 trees), my coop is in the orchard, and my chickens range the orchard.

    It is fenced with 7 ft fence (to keep deer away from them, but now convenient for the chickens) You can see the breeds I have below, but the best foragers I have are the Sicilian Buttercup and BO. I plan on getting some Black Australorps next year.

    They do a good job controlling the bugs. (except ants) Any caterpillars I find on the trees, I feed to them. They do entertain themselves by jumping at the fruit on a couple young trees. We trimmed some low branches so they can't roost in the trees. (or get to the fruit) They have dug out a hole at the base of one of my apple trees as they prefer to dust bathe there. They seem to keep the gophers away. (haven't had a problem with gophers since I got the chickens) And they take care of most of the weeds.

    All in all, I love the arrangement and my chickens.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 7, 2009

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