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Sheep in the Orchard

 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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I have two ewes that mow the lawn and produce a few lambs for the table every year.  I also have two small (about 15 trees) semidwarf orchards--one pomes and one stone fruits.  Next month, when the apples and pears defoliate, I am planning to turn the sheep in to the orchard to graze.  I have noticed that they seem to only eat the leaves of the trees, not buds, so I presume this will be OK.  (?)

The stone fruit orchard (on the south side of my ridge) also has avocados and blackberries, which, unlike the stone fruits, are evergreen.  If the sheep don't damage the trees in the pome fruit orchard, I plan to turn them into the stone fruit orchard, and use a portable electric fence to keep them away from the avocados and blackberries.

If anyone has comments or experience about this, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

Don Eggleston
 
Tyler Ludens
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My sheep love to eat bark, so when they got into my small orchard, they killed several trees before we got them out.  They just mowed right through them.

So beware.  Sheep can lethally damage a tree in no time flat. 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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How old are your trees?  Usually sheep won't do much damage to mature trees, but they can kill young trees just as fast as goats.  If you put them in, I suggest doing it when you can sit there and watch them for a while, and take them out quickly if you see them going for bark instead of grass.  Then make sure you check on things frequently.

Kathleen
 
                          
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Location: Northern California
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At Emerald Earth, their three sheep were pastured in the orchard for a couple of days and did minor damageā€”a couple of broken twigs, but nothing that would hurt the trees. They ate a bit of moss off an older tree, and seemed to enjoy it when offered tree prunings, but they didn't have any inclination to get up on their hind legs to reach the leaves or strip the bark the way goats do. More sheep for longer? I'm not sure.
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Thanks for the responses.  My trees are mostly semidwarf, and most are only 3-5 years old, so a sheep on rear legs could reach almost half way up.  When I start this experiment I will chain them to a corkscrew stake with a 10' radius chain, like I do on the lawn, so their access to the whole orchard will be limited. I'm pretty sure they will go for the grass first--also the "green manure" growing under the trees.  I assume that if the trees are not in leaf, they will eat most anything green before they will go for defoliated twigs.  Before they eventually get down to munching on twigs, I'll move them to the other orchard. 

I'll post the results on this site.

Don
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Don, just make sure that they can't reach the tree trunks.  Just like goats, sheep *will* eat bark, as well as twigs and leaves.

Kathleen
 
Burra Maluca
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I'm not recommending this in any way, but round here when they graze goats near fruit trees they put a hobble on them, tying one front leg to one back leg so that they can walk (albeit a bit strangely) but can't stand up on their back legs and reach up the trees to strip the leaves. 
 
Larisa Walk
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Location: South of Winona, Minnesota
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My Shetland sheep spent 45 minutes in a young orchard - once (I can laugh about it now as it probably would have been quite entertaining for an outside observer to watch).  They immediately went for the trees even though the orchard was lush in grazeable vegetation.  I noticed within 5 minutes that this was a big mistake and spent the rest of the time trying to herd them out, but they were like a bunch of wild kids on a candy shop raid, leaping, grabbing and eating as much as they could get their lips on.  I have no doubt that left to it, they would have gone for the tree bark as well - they later showed their capabilities when moved into an area with boxelder.  Even though sheep are supposed to be more grazers than browsers, unlike goats, mine excelled at clearing a new pasture of boxelder.  The largest ewe, half Shetland and half Lincoln, would bulldoze down saplings up to 2" diameter, pushing on them with her chest until she could bend them enough to walk up to where the leaves were.  When the other sheep saw her do it, they would run over and get in on the action, eating the leaves that were now conveniently served.  They did not do this with elm, only boxelder.  To preserve the large trees for shade, we had to fence the trunks as they started to strip the bark.

Knowing the sheep's preference for some trees, we now give all the apple tree prunings to them as treats, which they devour.  We also give them pruned boxelder branches with leaves which they love.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Protect your fruit trees. Sheep can almost kill fruit trees merely by looking at them. I do declare. That said, with older trees, plenty of food and possibly some wire it should be fine. Keep an eye on them though.

Geese are very _non-destructive_ of trees in the orchard. Ducks are great too. Small pigs seem fine.

Goats are worse than sheep from what I have witnessed. T <-- wards off the goats!

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
                            
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Location: southern Ohio
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When I was in Morocco, I frequently saw sheep grazing the olive orchards, but there was usually a shepherd there too.  One this to remember is that cherry leaves, especially wilted ones are not only lethal to horses but according to sheep-people around here, to sheep and goats too.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Wilted cherry leaves are indeed poisonous, and you need to watch out for them.  However, fresh unwilted cherry leaves are not poisonous, at least to goats (we had many black cherries in our field in New Hampshire -- young trees that the goats could reach, and they never suffered any harm from eating them).  Neither are the leaves when they are thoroughly dried out.  So, if you chop a tree down, or one falls, or a large branch comes down during a storm, you want to keep the animals away from it until the leaved dry out completely.  Otherwise they shouldn't come to any harm from eating cherry leaves.  Not that you WANT them to be eating your fruit trees, of course!

Kathleen
 
Walter Jeffries
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This is our experience too. Both our sheep and pigs eat the fresh growing cherry trees - bark, branches, leaves and all - with no ill effects. They are a good way to clear out the cherry from pastures. A vet told me that it is when animals gorge on a fallen wilting tree that the problem occurs.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
 
Paula Edwards
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Sheep love eating leaves and twigs. And they rub themselves on trees. We have an ornamental cherry in the paddock, mature, and the sheep didn't kill it but damaged quite a bit, but I didn't care with this tree.
I wonder if 4 star posts and a hip high rabbit wire would be enough to protect young trees.
 
                            
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My jacobs did fine with all of the trees on my property last year (I include selective pruning of low growing branches as "fine", until fall. Don't ask me what got into them, but they started rubbing their horns on the tree trunks, peeling the bark totally off of anything that was 2 inches or smaller. I've got about 80 doomed trees as a result. Currently harvesting those to offset hay for both the goats and sheep. It was quite a surprise as I had "accepted" that they were going to live in a harmony with the trees. Sheep fertilizing, trees providing snacks. Oh well.
 
steve temp
Posts: 39
Location: Costa Rica 100 meters above sea level, Tropical dry forest
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The electric fence has worked well for me. The larger trees the sheep have not bothered much. I did want to wait till the trees were older before I introduced the sheep. But always adding a few trees here and there .The younger trees even citrus and certain varieties that you really like, they seem to prefer. So these I ran elec. wires and 3 or 4 posts around tree. So far the sheep are one of my favorite projects. Adds another dimension to productivity. I never liked mowing grass, and they turn it into meat and fertilizer.
lamb 3 009.jpg
[Thumbnail for lamb 3 009.jpg]
elec sheep
 
steve temp
Posts: 39
Location: Costa Rica 100 meters above sea level, Tropical dry forest
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Just had the sheep again strip several trees. Was working on fence for a few days and have had electric off. I would keep sheep in a separate area, in hind sight. With a good woven wire fence.
If they had any access to trees, maybe some heavy 1.5 inch mesh around trees.
Sounds nice to mix animals in to orchard area. Just not worth the despair of their destruction. Also they are devastating every time they get out. Sheep know exactly what you do not want them to eat. They will eat it fast too!! Lamb chops would be extra tasty right about now.
 
Adam Klaus
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steve temp wrote:
Sounds nice to mix animals in to orchard area. Just not worth the despair of their destruction.


From personal experience, I agree 110%! It sounds so idyllic. It works until it doesnt. And it is a guaranteed disaster at some point.
 
chad stamps
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This is probably not something I would do, but it's an interesting study nonetheless. Sheep trained to avoid grape vines by being given a stomach ache.

http://ucanr.org/repository/cao/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v062n01p10&fulltext=yes
 
Lyvia Dequincey
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Interesting. I wonder if you could put bitter apple on the tree bark. It does wonders with my dogs. It's non toxic, made from apples but tastes worse than, err, other things dogs will eat.
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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I posted the original question about sheep in the orchard here a year ago. I have since learned my lesson. No more sheep in the orchard at any season, even tethered. Next project is to seal the fences really well, and pasture my chickens there (with my aussie) for a couple weeks at a time. Thanks to all for the comments. I learned a lot.

Don
 
Juan Pedro Ortiz
Posts: 21
Location: Land of Oz
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There must be a way to do it. Most of my property is orchard and I've been wanting to run sheep or Dexter cattle between the rows.
I was thinking of having permanent wooden stakes and running poly tape through insulated loops to create temporary paddocks and moving them daily.
Do you guys really think this is a bad idea? I've read that giving animals mineral blocks will stop them from de-barking trees.
I wonder if it'd be worth giving Sepp Holzers bone sauce a shot?
 
Kate Barnwell
Posts: 27
Location: Sunny SC, zone 8
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Grazing sheep in the orchard is totally do able! You have to fence the boogers in with electric netting fence. I don't even keep the electric on half the time- they cant get through it or jump it even if it's off.
Here's how I do it- fence in the area between your tree rows (the alley ways) with (2) lengths of the 160' long Enetting from Premier. You can make it 3 or 4 lengths if you want to move it less.
http://www.premier1supplies.com/fencing.php?mode=detail&fence_id=1

I move the fence over about 25' every day to give the sheep new grass and move them down the row.
I built them a movable sheep house for $100 with cattle panels. I dont know how to post pics on here but I can post instructions on my blog if anyone is interested. Put lawn mower tires on the sheep house and viola- a sheep mobile. Get a muck bucket cart and a 30 gallon muck bucket and you have a portable water tank for them.
Now get a plastic box and put it in a wheelbarrow. Get a rechargable 12 V battery (on ebay for about $50) and a 10 W solar panel (Northern Tool for $50) and put the battery in the box and put the solar panel over top of it so the battery cant get wet when it rains and put all this in the wheelbarrow. Get a fence shocker and mount it on the side of the wheelbarrow, now you have a movable fence charger for about 1/2 the price of what you'd buy one for.
Of course, you do have to go out there and move everything everyday or at least once a week, and some people don't like that. I quite enjoy it actually, the sheep are always so excited to get their new day's grass in the morning.
I don't own this property, so I wanted to have everything be low cost and movable. I don't have a barn, and the sheepmobile works great when the sheep need shade or protection from rain/snow.
Now get Katahdins or St. Croix, and you'll have just about the easiest to keep livestock on the planet. No worming, no supplemental feed. ONLY grass!

I've had many a trial and error figuring this all out, but this way seems to work quite well for my flock.
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Mineral blocks stop sheep from eating fruit tree spurs. Great, sensible idea, and it seems to be working for me, but I'm still nervous about turning my two ewes into my mostly semi-dwarf orchard.

Don
 
Juan Pedro Ortiz
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Location: Land of Oz
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Hey Kate that sounds totally doable! I'd love to see your blog, can you post a link?
Have you had any experience with Damaras or Dorpers? I've never seen/heard of the two breeds you mentioned here in Australia.
Damaras and Dorpers are also hair breeds but I've read different things about how manageable they are.
 
Kate Barnwell
Posts: 27
Location: Sunny SC, zone 8
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Juan- I'm in the process of doing a post on how I move the sheep and how to make a sheepmobile. It's not up yet but my blog is www.bricolagefarm.wordpress.com. Should be up by tomorrow.
I've had no experience with Daramas. Dorpers are similar to Katahdins, although less hardy.
I'd say get a few Dorpers and give it a shot, you can always sell or butcher them if you don't like them.
As with all animals some individuals tend to try fences more than others. But the electric netting will shock the crap out of them, so they won't try it too many times
 
Kate Barnwell
Posts: 27
Location: Sunny SC, zone 8
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Going on a week now with sheep in the apple/pear orchard, and I haven't lost a fruit spur or any bark! I was thinking of just leaving them in the fenced orchard until they had it intensively grazed, but last night the coyotes were howling right below the orchard, so I moved them to a pen closer to the house. Even though I have a great Aussie, we have lost chickens before, so I will take them out daily and return them to the closer pen when I lock the chickens in.

This is great because at this time of year I had been buying alfalfa.

As I posted here I also have three new 50x50 foot areas that I've planted with comfrey and kikuyu grass that should be ready to graze starting next year, so goodbye alfalfa.

Don
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Somehow I must have hit the wrong button and my three paragraph message disappeared, so here it is again:

I am reporting on what I have learned so far by putting my two hair sheep pregnant ewes in to my semi-dwarf apple/pear orchard during the dormant season. If you recall, I did this several years ago and they ate many low-hanging fruit buds. This time I had given them a mineral salt block, and a poster here said that they would therefore show less interest in the buds. Well, they did, and I was stoked. For six days they ate grass and other "weeds" close to the ground in the orchard.

But, on the seventh day (!!!) they began to eat the buds, so they went back to alfalfa/clearing scrub, since because of the drought here in CA, we have no green grass to speak of. In my neighborhood (Santa Cruz, CA) it has only rained once all winter, which is supposed to be our "rainy season".

At this point I must interject what I learned 50+ years ago in a college study of infants: Toddlers were given free choice salt-free food along with a bowl of pure salt. Invariably, after eating the other food, they chose to take straight salt repeatedly even though it caused them to make a face, and was clearly not pleasurable to them. Message: animals have an innate ability to choose the diet that is right for them. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I believe this is a general rule of nature.

Also, consider that these were hair-sheep and they were pregnant ewes, which may have some bearing on the outcome, and they are very well-fed, even fat by some standards.

So, I am wondering about the reasons:

1. They started with the most delectable food and by day seven they had reached the fruit buds, because everything less tasty was gone.

To tell the truth, I think this is the only reasonable answer. The next question is how to make fruit buds less tasty to sheep. Another poster here put up a link to some research where they let sheep eat buds in vineyards and then gave them something to give them indigestion. They apparently learned to not eat fruit buds. That's one option.

Here's another: If animals eat the nutrients that they need, what is in fruit buds that is not currently in the sheep salt-block. Sounds like a job for state university researchers.

Don Eggleston



 
andrew curr
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Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
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steve temp wrote:The electric fence has worked well for me. The larger trees the sheep have not bothered much. I did want to wait till the trees were older before I introduced the sheep. But always adding a few trees here and there .The younger trees even citrus and certain varieties that you really like, they seem to prefer. So these I ran elec. wires and 3 or 4 posts around tree. So far the sheep are one of my favorite projects. Adds another dimension to productivity. I never liked mowing grass, and they turn it into meat and fertilizer.
Nice work Steve!
 
Burra Maluca
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Where I live sheep and goats are hobbled front-to-back on one side so that they can't stand with their front legs up the tree trunks to reach far up the tree.
 
andrew curr
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Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
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Fine wooled sheep and young sheep will cause less damage to your orchard trees!
 
Don Eggleston
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Here's the link on "training" sheep to not eat grape leaves: http://www.sheepmagazine.com/29-2/julia_hollister/

Don
 
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