[NAFEX] hungry voles and tasty trees

kieran or donna redherring at tnaccess.com
Wed May 11 23:30:55 EDT 2005

>Does anyone know how to stop goats from stripping bark off apple trees?

    We found milk goats extremely destructive to trees, even mature apple
trees.  The place we rented had a couple of acres of 10 ft high brush, which
in 6 yrs the goats had reduced to about 8" high ( a major drought helped).
In the process we cut the milkers back to 2 and only bred 1 per year, giving
us milk year round.  We got some pygmy goats, only to find that they could
reach the trees by simply running up the trunk and then grazing from the
branches.  ( To be truthful, we only had one goat do this twice).  Then we
got a Barbados ewe, and she had twin ewes, and they all had twins the next
year, so we suddenly had 9 sheep, this just before we sold the whole lot and
moved.  My conclusion:  sheep are not as interesting, but are a lot easier
to deal with, and taste a lot better than goats.
    In a way, we are in the same position with our chickens and ducks (the
only livestock we have now) in our garden, the whole business again on a
smaller scale.  Someone said we should fence them out of the garden, and I
said, no, we WANT them in the garden, we just don't want them to eat or
trample or scratch up certain things.  Finally I realized that we actually
consider meat and eggs products of our garden.  Likewise you consider milk
and possibly meat as products of your future apple orchard.  This is good
use of land, except that you might want to rethink the animal product side
of things.
    Milk goats are very strong and tall (more leverage), and I'm sure you
have learned how they will use their weight against your tree defenses.  It
is important to realise that goats are browsers by nature, and regard grass
as famine food.  Sheep by contrast, will eat the bark and maybe lower
leaves, but are unlikely to stand on their hind legs to knock your trees
down.  They prefer grass, and I am assuming that is the only part of your
orchard you would like eaten.  With sheep instead of goats,  just put some
chicken wire around the trunks about 3-4' high, don't overstock, and I am
sure your trees would do much better.
    But lets go still further, looking into the future and a maturing
orchard.  I suppose you don't want to use many chemicals, as that would not
be so good for your milk supply.  A few years ago there was some discussion
of organic orchards here, and someone referred to an observation that most
organic orchards that were doing well were pretty heavily stocked with
poultry.  I found a chapter called "Who Stole the Plums" in a book published
about 1902 which was reprinted in POMONA a good 10 or more years ago.  It
was about a plum orchard which lived out it's entire life without ever
producing fruit due to curculio, replaced by a different kind of plum which
did just the same, till the owners gave up, fenced the area and put some
calves and chickens in there.  Voila, the orchard started producing
abundantly!  The author assumed that when the calves scratched their backs
on a tree, the curculio dropped and the chickens ate them.  The chickens
could have done the job about a year slower on their own, by eating drops
and scratching out next year's curculio crop during the winter.  If given
access to the very base of trees, they could very well clear next to your
trees and reduce vole damage, not that I would bet any money on the latter.
(They would probably attract a few skunks hoping to eat your poultry, and if
you had them well caged at night the skunks might have to make do with
another favorite food, nests of baby voles. )  Choices for poultry in an
orchard that I can think of would be chickens, ducks, geese, and possibly
turkeys.  Each has it's own learning curve and investment, mostly in terms
of time.  Each has potential for feeding your family or being marketed.  We
have been through the chickens, which now live in moveable cages and do much
of our hoeing for us.  But I wanted to have something I could let loose in
Japanese beetle season and to use up more of the clover, etc.  Chickens
scratch, maybe not too bad in an orchard, but way too destructive in a
garden.  So far, guineas have proved to scratch very little and to mostly
not eat the garden truck (but I don't think you can fence them in too well,
not that it may matter, so long as they will roost in safety in a building
at night.)  Muscovy ducks will perch at night out of reach of predators,
except when nesting and on the full moon.  I don't know what creature in
Brazil plucks muscovies off their perches on a full moon, but they
absolutely will not perch then.  We gave up on muscovies, about the time
that one got bright and nested in the chicken shed, so now we have
youngsters and are planning on eating all except two females while we think
about it.  We got Khaki Campbell ducks, which must be caged like the
chickens, and have begun to rethink housing for them, as they are very
different.  I should mention that when animals are in your orchard, you
don't have to haul manure from a pen to the garden.  You might even
eventually have to worry about too much nitrogen, though that can be fixed
by giving them sawdust bedding.  I know a lot of this is off topic, but
thought some of the rest of you might have futher comments or observations.

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