Question of the Week
Answer: Grazing animals in orchards is an agroforestry practice—a deliberate integration of trees or shrubs with agricultural production. ATTRA’s Agroforestry Overview publication offers an introduction to different types of agroforestry operations, and it also includes further resources. This publication and some of the further resources listed will help you get a better idea of what is involved in agroforestry.
Goats can be used in orchards to eat grass, control weeds and underbrush, and to fertilize the trees. Goats also contribute to orchard sanitation if they are allowed to eat the fallen, damaged fruit that remains after harvest. Adding livestock to your orchard not only provides an alternative to machinery for mowing and reduces the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but can also provide useful products such as meat and milk.
Adding goats or hogs to an orchard requires considerable skill and planning for the management of the new livestock enterprise. ATTRA publications such as Goats: Sustainable Production Overview and Hog Production Alternatives will give you a starting point for raising these animals.
If you are familiar with goats and their food preferences, you know that they prefer browse to any forages at ground level. Trees must be protected from the goats. You will have to fence an alleyway between the trees so that they are unable to reach overhanging branches. Otherwise, they will eat any part of the tree that they can reach. Goats can quickly damage fruit trees by de-barking them, especially in the winter. Therefore, if you are maintaining a herd year-round, it is necessary to have alternative pastures for times when forage is not actively growing. Hogs can also damage the ground and trees if they do not have adequate nutrition. They will begin to root if they are hungry and looking for food.
Goats and hogs will eat dropped fruit and nuts. These drops can only be used as a supplemental feed. The fruit/nuts only drop for a short period of time; therefore, you can’t depend on them to be a substantial part of the animals’ diet. The area within the orchard that the animals have access to should be controlled, and animals must be moved when available forage has been consumed. Refer to the listed resources for descriptions of the use of livestock in several types of tree systems.
In addition to increased management, the cost of fencing and water facilities must be added to the cost of the animals themselves. Temporary electric netting, a charger, and water facilities must be provided for the goats within the orchard. Although this type of fencing is considered cheaper than older types of permanent fencing, it is still a capital expense. In addition to the temporary fences, a permanent, multi-strand perimeter fence is recommended.
Predator control is another concern. A suggestion from Don Bailey in the resource materials mentions that some growers corral the herd at night, grazing the orchard area only during the day. This may be necessary if you develop predator problems. Another alternative is to use guardian animals. For more information on using dogs, donkeys, or llamas as guardians, consult the ATTRA publication Predator Control for Sustainable and Organic Livestock Production.
The Resources section below lists several articles that deal with grazing animals in orchards. Also, this summer a Prescribed Grazing Handbook will become available on this Web site. It will include a chapter on grazing livestock in orchards.
Bailey, Don. 1995. Ask your vet. Sheep! Magazine. August-September. p. 19.
Fox, Linda. 1998. Goats and agroforestry. Cashmirror. December. p. 11-13.
Fukumoto, Glen. 2001. Grazing livestock under orchards. www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ctahr2001/InfoCenter/Forages/extensionResearch/Grazing
Hardesty, Linda. 1991. Silvopastoral orchard management options. Paper presented at Second Conference on Agroforestry in North America, Springfield, MO. August 19.
Hardesty Linda. 1995. Silvopastoral options for fruit growers. www.uidaho.edu/ag/environment/sustain/reports/sare89-17.html. 4 p.
Scharabok, Ken. 1993. Multi-cropping with trees. Countryside and Small Stock Journal. Vol. 77, No. 4. July/August. p. 30-31.
Schultz, Tom and Bruce Gregory. 1998. Integrating intensive grazing with tree fruit production in the Puget Sound rainshadow. Pacific Northwest Sustainable Agriculture. August. p. 5-7.
Shirley, Christopher. 1992. Put stock in orchards and woodlots. New Farm. May-June. p. 35-37.
Sharrow, S.H. 1998. Designing silvopastures with animals in mind. Temperate Agroforester. July. p. 1, 4-5.
Thomas, Lynn. 1991. Hair sheep graze macadamia orchard. Sheep! Magazine. August-September. p. 24, 31.
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