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Turkeys in food forest

 
Patrick Winters
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I'm designing a quarter-acre food forest, more in the savannah model. I want fruit and nut trees adequately spaced to let in sunlight for an understory of berry bushes, nitrogen-fixers like Autumn Olive and Hog Peanut, and a herbaceous understory/ground cover with everything from clovers and Comfrey to Groundnut. And in the spirit of stacking functions, I'd like to include 5-8 turkeys, only keeping a couple after Thanksgiving as breeders. The turkeys could keep pest populations down, quickly chow down on any fallen fruit that has been infested before the larvae can mature, and keep the herbaceous understory and ground cover from getting out of control. And the turkeys could potentially roost in the tree branches, unless anyone with experience wants to chime in and say I should keep them in a coop instead.

Would the turkeys hunt down any voles that might otherwise mercilessly gnaw at the trees? Or would vole patrols with a Jack Russell still be in order?

Will the turkeys eat too much of the "A list" fruit to leave enough for me and my own, or would the understory berries keep them mostly satisfied?

And lastly, do you think a quarter-acre of multi-layered food forest would sustain 7 or 8 turkeys for a full growing season with minimal supplements? If not, what would be a safer number?
 
oz orin
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What trees will you be planting? How will you prevent shading of the AO bushes? In our experience the bushes grow well enough in shade but actually flourish and produce berries well only with full sun. They produce berries in the shade but at a very reduced yield. If you're only looking for nitrogen fixing and not also the berries is there something else you would consider for the understory?
 
Patrick Winters
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I'd like to be able to jam in there just about every type of tree and perennial I can get my hands on that grows in southern New England. Apple, crabapple, pear, plum, nectarine, apricot, cherry, fig, pawpaw, persimmon, hardy kiwi, walnut, hazelnut, chestnut, shagbark hickory, coppiced oak, coppiced willow, black locust, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, Japanese wineberry, black currants, gooseberry, bayberry, autumn olive, Russian olive, goji berry, buffaloberry, bearberry, lingonberry, mulberry, hawthorn, blackthorn, elderberry, sea buckthorn, serviceberry, highbush cranberry, Siberian pea shrub, hog peanut, groundnut, comfrey, hell, even wild English Yew if I can get my hands on one.

Most of the berry bushes I'll be growing for my own harvest will be actually interspersed throughout my primary garden, as endcaps on hugelbeets. I figured I'd mostly devote the understory in the food forest to providing for the turkeys. I can definitely understand spacing to be the biggest issue, and directly resulting in how much fruit those understory trees provide being the deciding factor in turkey stocking rates. What would you recommend?
 
oz orin
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I think you mentioned doing this as a 0.25 acre plot which would be about 100' x 100' Do you have a sense yet of how many of the plants you list below you would like to grow in this plot? A few mature chestnuts or shagbark hickories could create a lot of shade - even after 10 years. Of course black walnuts would contribute juglone to the soil which could prevent many other plants from growing their for years after. It seems like in addition to the broad list of plants your plan might benefit from a phasing which accounts for the life cycle of each species? We have an AO bush that is about 25' in diameter and about 20' tall. It does produce berries but mainly on an outside "shell". The interior of the bush is non productive so even though it takes up a large footprint it produces no more than a bush that's well pruned but 20% of the size. Rather like the difference between and overgrown or pruned Forsythia. I'm bringing up this example with the idea of phasing / maintenance in mind.
 
Patrick Winters
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Totally understood about the Autumn Olives, there's a few wild Elaeagnus in the neighborhood that have reached titanic proportions. I know they grow quickly, and mainly want to use them as nurse plants and understory, which means lots of pruning and occasionally coppicing. As for the larger nut trees, I've already got my eye on a section that will keep them shading a pond rather than the rest of the food forest. If I keep most of the fruit trees semi-dwarf in size and with enough daylight coming down for the understory, what kind of turkey population do you think it would be able to sustain?
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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The big variable in determining how many turkeys in a quarter acre, is maturity. How mature are the turkeys, and more critically, how mature is the food forest?

Little turks dont eat a fraction of what a mature, 20-30 pound (or more) breeding turkey will eat.

More critically, a young food forest is not going to provide much food at all. If you had a fully optimized quarter acre multi-layer food forest, that would produce dozens of times more turkey food than in the early years.

Starting out, with young plantings, I would say 2-3 turkeys would be good. The food forest will not be providing much, and extra turkey pressure will be harmful to your establishing plantings. IME, turkeys love to roost in trees. They arent so good at judging the strength of trees. So they will regularly fly up into trees that cant support their weight, with the result being lots of broken tree branches. I watched a five month old turkey fly up into the crown of a young peach tree, and snap it off clean. Big bummer. This pattern will be a real challenge with young trees and turkeys. I now only have chickens and ducks in my young orchard for this reason.

Turkeys eat a lot, as a function of their large body mass and basic maintainence requirements. Turkeys are also only half as efficient as chickens when it comes to digesting their feed. So it takes a lot of food just to maintain a few turkey hens and a breeding tom. Inadequate nutrient intake for turkeys leads to lots of health problems, so I would definitely err on the low side for numbers. I think that in a few years, maybe five, you could be raising a breeding trio and ten poults or so, but that would be optimistic and assuming a best case scenario. A quarter acre is a pretty small space for birds as big as turkeys, if you dont want to feed them a lot of purchased feed.

I would map out on graph paper your plan for planting. It is strongly reccomended to plant full size trees, not semi dwarfs, in a food forest setting. Semi dwarfs have small root systems that are not very drought hardy, and dont have the vigor of a full size tree. Too many trees in a small space will stunt one another and not produce good fruit crops. It is always good to be a little conservative with your spacing. My peaches, apricots, pears, and plums are on 15 foot centers. This allows good airflow and sunlight penetration. I would not want them any closer, and may wish they were further apart as they mature. Nut trees are reccomended on 40' centers, so that would mean 8-10 nut trees on a quarter acre and you are all full. Definitely map it all out and be realistic before you start planting.

Food forests are awesome. I just visited the best one I have ever seen at CRMPI last week. They are an ongoing project that work best when allowed to evolve slowly over time. Take your time, be thorough, and enjoy the process. good luck!
 
Patrick Winters
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Thanks for all the info! I was really only thinking one tom and two hens, with 3-5 additional poults to slaughter every Thanksgiving for my family and the neighbors, so hopefully that would be achievable once the food forest is performing optimally. If I can keep them feed on a mostly closed loop, that's all I need to be happy. You're totally right about graphing out the food forest, I'll definitely have to. We're dealing with organisms that will hopefully be outliving me, so I don't want to screw anything up for them. I'd never heard that opposition to keeping fruit trees in dwarf or semi-dwarf size. I knew Sepp refuses to prune, but I figured most food forests did it to cut down on shade!
 
Barry Fitzgerald
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Location: Welland, Ontario, Canada
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A problem with free range turkeys, if you get a breed that can fly up and roost in the trees, how will you get them to stay in your 1/4 acre?
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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If you get a male turkey you really need at least 5 females otherwise he is going to stress the female one. So for the 1st two years I would start out with just only females and I would also probably start out with chickens vs turkey, then after I see that the garden is producing enough to suppose more I more over to more turkeys.

If you plant most of your fruit/nut trees around the perimeter of your 1/4 acre food forest and leave the inside for shorter plants; you will be able to grow all the trees that you listed, because I have as much trees in a significantly smaller space. However I use, patio-dwarf cultivars and 10ft height cultivar.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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