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Chickens under citrus?

 
Posts: 71
Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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Any experience out there regarding penning chickens beneath citrus trees?

I know they can be used in other orchard settings to clean up drops and to interrupt some pest cycles by eating eggs and larvae/pupae among the fallen leaves.
I also know that citrus tend to have a lot of surface roots, so I'm wondering if all the scratching would be an issue for the trees.

It's a fairly small home citrus grove, not an orchard situation. What I'm imagining is not a chicken tractor set up so much as a poultry yard. Possibly it could be divided in two and the clock rotated back and forth.

Thanks
 
pollinator
Posts: 218
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No experience here at all, so hopefully someone else will chime in.

The words "poultry yard" tend to make me scratch my head a little, as it conjures images of sad patches of barren dirt.  Chickens are jungle creatures, correct?  So they want to be surrounded by lots and lots of trees and bugs and plant cover.  

So the challenges would be:
1) How could you mitigate chickens scratching shallow roots?
2) How to prevent the chickens from eating away all the nice vegetation, leaving only dead barren ground?

For the second question, some kind of deep litter system along with ample cut and carry of vegetation might protect the biological health of the soil if a paddock lane rotation system is not available.

For the first, protective metal poultry netting (or wooden lathe slats material) laid horizontally, circling around the trees' drip lines could mitigate the risk of chickens destroying the roots.  

I remember Joel Salatin mentioning seeing a coop that had such a slat system suspended a few inches above grass.  The grass was lush and the chickens kept it trimmed and well manured.
 
Posts: 65
Location: Eddington, Maine
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I do not have experience with citrus, but I have put my chickens under some old apple trees before. One thing is to make sure the trees are big enough to handle the disturbance. Do not put chickens near young trees. Secondly, timing can help a lot. If you can time it so that the larvae (grubs) are hatching just as you put the chickens in there, they will be so busy eating the grubs, they won't bother the plants much. (Other than scratching around, which is just chickens being chickens). Knowing the cycle of the pests and when to put the chickens under the trees to have the biggest benefit is important.

If you want to just put the chickens there and leave them you will have a lot more work and things to consider. You will need to do what was already suggested, bringing in carbon and plant matter, as well as fencing out the trees themselves. Depending on the number of chickens and the size of your space, if you move them in for just a day or two at a time, with a month or two (depending on your land) of rest in between, I think you will have less to worry about.
 
Erik van Lennep
Posts: 71
Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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Thanks for the suggestions. Looks like I'll need to consider the design a bit further.
 
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there are some good ideas to be incorporated in this video... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsr0rxYQOYs    "After more than 5 years of experimenting and trailing different ways to incorporate plantings into our chicken yard, we're excited to share all the various methods that have worked for us.  Both annual and perennial, for our consumption as well as the chickens (and wild beings) are tested and shared here."    This video is of value too...   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ISWcbwKfYc
 
pollinator
Posts: 649
Location: zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Being in sandy zone 4b, I have no experience with chickens patrolling citrus fruit. I can only offer my experience with chickens in a fenced in orchard.
I used to keep my chickens in a "moonscape" because I wanted them fenced in for safety. Also, I didn't have a lot of money to make fences. As I wanted to add a couple of rotating pastures for them, first I decreased the size of the flock so they would not overwhelm the vegetation. Things were much better, but rotating them, frankly, is a pain in the derrière.
I now have them in ONE fenced in area large enough that they *cannot* overwhelm it. This is working much better: they can go in the forested area when the heat is too much, [and it is getting more and more forested] have their dust baths in the drier, sunnier area where I can sprinkle DT everywhere I see them scratch & roll in the dirt, as I still have a generous area from the leftover moonscape.
Another observation I made is that there are plants they absolutely will not scratch/eat, so you would have to see if you can make a guild around your citrus:
Peppermint] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppermint,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agastache_foeniculum  [hyssop],
gaultheria procumbens [wintergreen]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaultheria_procumbens
Those are some of the the volunteers they will not touch here.
Notice a pattern? they are all strong, aromatics perennial herbs. You might want those or other herbs that could go under a citrus, Thyme? Oregano? Sweet fern?...?
A plus is that my chickens keep those patches quite clean, so the herbs are easy to harvest, if you can use them. Also, the trees that live with the chickens are relatively pest free, compared with the trees they do not have access to.
If you only have half a dozen trees to protect, you might prefer those rubber "skirts". You will have to enlarge the hole for the trunk after a while, but the chickens cannot displace them. At $30-$45 a pop, though, that is quite an investment.
 
Erik van Lennep
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Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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thanks!!!
 
Erik van Lennep
Posts: 71
Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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good tips on the aromatics, and as the Mediterranean is the homeland of many of them, they should do well under the citrus!

thanks for the ideas
 
Posts: 102
Location: Ontario, Canada
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Ok Erik your citrus must be in pots living in Maastricht.  Then they will be fine with chickens around. You must be starting your own orangerie.  I have citrus in pots and my chickens don’t bother at all with them. There are too many bugs and weeds elsewhere to pick at.  I have 40 fowl (chickens, guineas, ducks and geese) they haven’t bothered any fruit trees at all.
Goats do way more damage to fruit trees and it takes only seconds for them to destroy a young orchard. Speaking from experience.
Veel success!
 
Erik van Lennep
Posts: 71
Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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Actually, I'm moving to Alicante, Spain in a few weeks. There is a small planting of citrus in the garden, but we're planning a more complete permacultural treatment of the plot.
 
Mary-Ellen Zands
Posts: 102
Location: Ontario, Canada
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That explains it!  Spain is much better for growing citrus. My question would be how much acreage do you have where you’re moving to?  A few of my family members in Holland have bought houses in Spain. I think they will eventually retire there.
The question about how much land is of course the more weeds you have the happier the chickens will be. They won’t pay attention to your orchard at all. You can make sure there is a ground cover under the citrus to keep them from scratching the ground bare. Or keep adding mulch to protect the roots.
HG vanuit Canada
 
Erik van Lennep
Posts: 71
Location: Maastricht, The Netherlands
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Starting out with not much more than your average suburban Dutch garden plot, with the citrus in just one corner. We have eyes on the neighboring plot that would give us more than a hectare to play with. But first we need to convince the owner to sell :)
 
Posts: 18
Location: Vancouver
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Typically permaculture writers seem to me to recommend ducks over chickens - less indiscriminate eaters, and they don't pull up young plants and denude the soil like chickens do.  Unfortunately, it seems the internet agrees that they shouldn't eat citrus, but if they avoid it instinctively, it could work out?  I've never kept either animal, just repeating what I've read.  
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
pollinator
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Geoff Colpitts wrote:Typically permaculture writers seem to me to recommend ducks over chickens - less indiscriminate eaters, and they don't pull up young plants and denude the soil like chickens do.  Unfortunately, it seems the internet agrees that they shouldn't eat citrus, but if they avoid it instinctively, it could work out?  I've never kept either animal, just repeating what I've read.  



Indeed, ducks [and geese] tend to bite off what sticks out of the ground versus scratching, baring the roots, pull out young plants... Ducks & geese are more 'browsers', less 'Attila', like our chickens are.
As far as what an animal will eat and won't, a lot depends on what else they have to eat and if a mama hen taught them. These days, many breeds of chickens are raised in batteries, and the baby chicks that we buy are orphans, so we can't count on a loving mother to teach them.. I bought day old chicks, so they have not had the benefit of a loving mama.
Back to what they eat: I made Curaçao liquor and tossed the spent rinds, seeds etc. to my chickens. I also toss oranges, lemons, limes that are past their prime. Not  a lot, but I do not refrain from tossing it to them either.
The stuff is still there, untouched. Eventually, it will decompose and become fertile ground. Oh, they scratch it; check for ants; insects that would dare to live under, but they don't "hunger for it". They do have a constant supply of other feed though. Variety is the spice of life, for our chickens as well as ourselves.
Every day, they get  broken egg shells and any other kitchen scraps. They always go for that first. They also get swollen/ sprouted grains. They visit that second. Third they go to their feed. Plus, all day long, they scratch, peck around all the vegetation they live under, like trees/ bushes. The trees and bushes do not have insects bothering them. [I have to make sure I don't overwater, but in my sandbox]...
 
Posts: 50
Location: outside Brisbane, Australia
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I have an orchard and chickens. The chickens do love to scratch under the trees. I used to put cardboard down over the root zone and put rocks to keep it in place, but the dogs like to sniff out any creatures under it, and when it starts to break down the chickens scratch it up. Plus, I live in the subtropics, which are dry all winter, so I want any rain to be able to get through.

My new solution is to cut up bamboo (I have 2 clumps) and lay the canes parallel to each other as a sort of grid where the roots are. Water can still get through but the canes stop the chickens from being able to scratch, even though they can still peck around. It will mean a bit more weeding than when there was cardboard.

My other idea is to use the old dog blankets. I have a little dog that sleeps in a big dog crate in the shed. He poos in the crate every couple of weeks (which is why he doesn't get to sleep inside with the other dog). I line the crate with cardboard, and I buy old cotton towels for his blanket. When they get pooed on, I replace them and take the soiled towel to place under a fruit tree as a grass suppressant.
 
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I would like to know more as well.
 
Now I am super curious what sports would be like if we allowed drugs and tiny ads.
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