November 18, 2011 at 10:18 pm #256093
We are planning to start a new mixed fruit orchard which will be in the chook run and covered at about 5m high to keep wild birds out. The total area is about 17m x 7m and includes an old garden shed for the girl’s nesting and night shelter. The idea is that the chooks will clean up any old fruit and bugs, keep weeds out and help with fertilising. The trees will provide shelter from the hot Adelaide sun.
The girls receive lots of scraps – from the garden, the house and the local IGA. I’m thinking about having a set area for all the scraps to be tossed, and then after they have finished pecking, to move them into another sectioned area to compost down before then placing around the trees.
We have lots of slate rock which I think will work around the bases of the trees to stop the girls from scratching too close to the trunks, particularly when young. I haven’t worked out the best option for watering yet and would appreciate any ideas – if I did drippers are they likely to damage the pipe running along the ground?
It will be a permanent home for the chooks, about 16 of them. They are let out to the general garden for an hour or so most evenings when we get home.
Any thoughts, ideas or other things to consider about our plan would be appreciated.
DiNovember 19, 2011 at 12:53 am #514373
Sounds good to me. Though remember in the non fruit seasons it might get a bit bare. Maybe have some options for chooks for the forest for those seasons.November 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm #514374
I am in the planning process for my chook orchard too. It comes with half a dozen mature nectarine trees, but I’m going to plant out an understorey of herbs/vegetables and shrubs to complement the trees, and feed the chooks when there isn’t much falling fruit.
Tagasaste, pigeon pea, silverbeet, pepino, comfrey, and lucerne/alfalfa are on my list so far.November 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm #514375
Theoretically its a great idea dierich. Practically you may have a few issues that may need to be addressed.
Chookens are great scratchers so you will have to pay attention to that around the base of the trees. Slightly raised fine mesh wire would be better than slate or even a thickish ground cover like creeping Boobialla. This will also protect your irrigation.
Chook poo is also quite alkaline so over time you will need to ensure that the pH does not rise to high. Adding sulphur is a good way of reducing the soil pH and has the added benefit of controlling certain pests.
Also the manure’ nitrogen content will create lots of foliage growth at the expense of fruit production, so whilst your trees will look healthy & lush they might not be as productive as you want and will be a magnet for sap sucking insects that love lots of high nitrogen growth. Adding sulphate of potash will help balance this but you will be doing a mountain of pruning to keep the foliage thinned.
I dont want to deter you on your project but just keep in mind that whilst these natural systems can work really well you have to be mindful of all the possible interactions that go on.November 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm #514376
Thanks Porgey, that’s exactly the type of feedback I was hoping for – the things to look out and be prepared for.
DP, I don’t know that anything else would survive long – they demolish silver beet in seconds when they get into the veggie patch. Rushing as they know they shouldn’t be anywhere near it, of course!November 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm #514377
I have the same plan for my fully netted orchard. I like the idea of slate around the trunk as it keeps warmth in for winter, conserves moisture and protects from heat as well…. however I wont be doing that as I dont have a single rock on my place.
I’m working at putting one hectare under net but thinking guinea fowl may do a better job than chooks.November 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm #514378
Really good advise porgey. We had a system like this for a number of years and you will definitely need to protect the base of trees and address the excess nitrogen and also phosphorus.
A simple way of providing scratch for the chickens is using some sort of wire system, we used old bed inner spring mattresses and planted green pick like oats and barley and some herbs, for a winter feed predominantly but also to provide year round pick. The fodder grows up between the wire and the chickens can’t scratch out the roots.November 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm #514379
eight hens, one rooster in a space 40 metres by nine metres. Dry spell, sandy soil, dust bowl. And guess where they dug their dustbaths given all that choice? At the base of the young trees. Make sure you have backup arrangements is all I can say …November 21, 2011 at 9:55 am #514380
By coincidence we have a very similar arrangement. Our stone fruit orchard is in the chook run. I have a few native grasses for shelter as well as 8 fruit trees. Just wanted to let you know that you may find 16 too many. (unless they are bantams) My run is 25m x 13m and I felt 16 (standard size) chooks was too many for that area. I currently have 12 in that spot and it is just the right size in regards to letting some grass grow and not creating so much poo that they are always walking in it. (I rake the yard into piles, but 16 just created too much through out the day)16 bantams would be fine though or half/half mix. The slate is a good idea at the base of the trees. I water using a sprinkler however I only watered twice last summer and the trees are massive, lush and laden with fruit. :woohoo: I use the sprinkler in summer to cool them down on super hot days.
All the best with your orchard! What fun!!November 21, 2011 at 10:04 am #514381
In that size area, they will clear it pretty quick of grass/weeds, bugs etc (think less then a week type scenario) I leave planks of wood or bricks in the yard for bugs to hide under then turn it over every so often. I also leave a mattock in there to dig a big hole every now and then. So far have found there isn’t masses of fruit on the ground, not really enough as a feed. I used to remove my spare scraps for composting, now I just rake them and the bedding hay into piles under the trees. It breaks down pretty fast -faster then my composting pile!
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