Monday, 22 October 2007

Role of Poultry in a Biodynamic Orchard

To achieve a balanced biodynamic farm the “animal element” needs to be included, to move it towards the concept of “the farm as an individual living organism.”
Nirvana is an orchard, so the logical the choice of animals is birds because birds go with trees & bushes. Both the domestic fowl & geese form an essential part of our orchard. They play an important part in composting, and producing vital ingredients to ensure dynamic recycling of nutrients.
The geese have been chosen for their grazing ability, 3 geese = a sheep. Having webbed feet they can graze the damp valley without damage. Their grazing has reduced our mowing costs by one third.

Our base flock is made up of 20 cross breed embden /touslouse. These birds are hardy & reliable breeders.
They graze the orchards each day. They prefer fine grasses, clover and other grasses when they are short. In general they do not like broadleaf weeds. However they do search out and destroy any comfrey leaf or root. Other goodies they seek out are potatoes, and at certain times of the year, nutgrass and soursobs bulbs. Fruit windfalls are cleaned up. As various crops ripen around the orchard, certain groups of geese “own” certain trees and claim “rights” over all windfalls.
Stocking rates vary according to seasonal conditions. By late summer and through winter we run 20 geese on 4.4ha. Most goslings are born Sept-Oct which coincides with the spring flush. They grow rapidly and have an excellent ability to convert feed to flesh. The flock increases to about 60. By Australia Day the hillsides are drying off and excess young birds are processed and some older birds are sold off to other land holders. This system keeps the genetics ticking over and ensures a good variation in age. We sometimes buy in or swap birds from different genetic pools. The low parts of the valley usually stay green all year providing good feed, and the property can sustain the reduced flock. This means there are fewer birds to fence away from the autumn crops and when pasture growth slows in winter months. Over winter the birds receive a small supplement of grain.

Geese are relatively easy to herd and train. If orchards are fenced, they can be moved around various areas, and kept out of areas before and during harvest. Our orchards are not fenced but we use electric fences to keep them out of areas. The berries are netted to exclude the geese as well as other birds. Their favourite food is chestnuts so during harvest they are herded into a paddock each morning & at the end of the day they are let out to take themselves home.
Housing needs are simple - the main reason for housing is protection from predators like foxes and dogs. The extra advantage of housing is manure collection (as a valuable compost ingredient). Geese can be very noisy (especially at full moon), so careful consideration as to where the pen is positioned is recommended.
Young orchards and geese do not mix, especially in spring, when the bark is slipping - they find this extremely tasty and will ring bark trees very quickly.
I have noticed on other orchards where there are large dams the geese become lazy & don’t graze as well. Our property has several small ponds down the valley which I think encourages them to graze more evenly.

1 comment:

SegoLily said...

What a pictaresque sight it must be with all those birds wandering amongst the trees.