can be very destructive in the garden, but if you're more careful, you
can take advantage of their busy feet and beaks to improve your garden
ecosystem. A timely application of chickens to the orchard can
kill pest insects without chemicals.
Plum curculio, codling
moth, and oriental
fruit moth are all
orchard pests that have been successfully controlled with
chickens. These insects overwinter in debris under your
fruit trees, emerging as adults between the time peaches bloom and
apples reach the pink stage (for plum curculio and oriental fruit moth)
and when the last petals
fall from the apple blossoms (for codling moth). If you allow
chickens to scratch around under your fruit trees in early spring
before the adult insects emerge, your flock will eat a large number of
the overwintering insects and cut back on damage to your fruit trees.
If you've waited too
long and the adult insects have already emerged, you can still get some
benefit from chickens in the orchard. Plum curculio is a type of
small beetle that tends to be slow-moving on chilly mornings.
Head into the orchard and jar the trunks of your trees several times
soon after dawn and the beetles should fall to the ground and into your
hungry chicken beaks.
Another useful time to
let chickens into your orchard occurs as fruits begin to drop from the
tree. While the good fruits are still hanging on the branches but
pest-ridden fruits are falling to the ground, you can turn chickens (or
other livestock) into the orchard to clean up dropped fruits and lower
insect pressure for next year. It's also handy to let your chickens eat any rotten
fruits after you've harvested, since these fallen fruits sometimes
harbor diseases as well as pests.
You won't want to run
your chickens in the orchard 365 days a year since the flock might
overdo their scratching and will likely overfertilize your trees.
I located our outdoor
brooder close to our
oldest peach tree so that our first batch of broilers can scratch
through the mulch, figuring that these three week old birds will work
the ground up in the two weeks left before they get moved to the main
coop. If all goes as planned, I'll let our second batch of
broilers visit our next biggest peach tree for a few weeks as
well. We've had serious problems with oriental fruit moths in the
past and are hopeful that chicken feet will mitigate some of the damage.
Our chicken waterer makes it easy to manage
poultry on pasture. Just fill up a bucket waterer once and
provide clean water for the flock for days on end.
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