The over all outcome of the this study was a success. We learned valuable information and experience with keeping birds in an orchard. I believe that with the correct ratio of birds to the area and proper management, chickens, guineas, and geese will greatly reduce the curculio beetle as well as other pests in the orchard.
An early warm up in mid February tricked the fruit trees again this year causing an almost full bloom by March 7th. We had a few hard frosts after that and with small fruit on the trees I attempted to save what I could by watering the orchard with a mist of water just before day break. I believe I was somewhat successful because the crop was not a total loss. After the winter off vacationing at the neighbors pond and the lake ajoining our property it was time to round the geese up and get them back into the poultry fence for the spring and summer. They were used to us now and we were able to herd them around like sheep. The chickens and guineas were still in the orchard and with the addition of some fresh baby chicks and guineas we were ready for a great season. We established the fencing similar to the configuration in 2011 . The birds did well and the trees did well also. The orchard floor recovered nicely from the previous summer’s wear and tear and the fruit trees, I believe, benefit from the frequent watering from the goose pools. All of the pear seedlings that were damaged the previous summer recovered nicely.
Our goal for this season was to rotate the geese more and to split them up into the separate areas to reduce their damage to the floor of the orchard and to the trees. In hind sight 10 geese was too many for the area we needed to keep mowed. Our objective for the year was to observe the birds to see if they ate any of the downed fruit as well as the fruit for evidence of less curculio beetle damage.
Our daily routine of letting the chickens and guineas out of their roost, feeding and watering them gave us plenty of opportunity to monitor then and watch how they reacted to the downed fruit. We monitored the fruit for signs of curculio beetle incisions as we have every year.
The quantity of fruit damaged by curculio was down roughly 50 percent from the previous years but we were introduced to a new predator in 2012 that we had evaded some how in the previous years and that was the Japanese Beetle. 2012 is the first year that they found us. The birds caught on this year and maybe just a little too well. They started eating the downed fruit but also ate fruit off the tree as well. I guess small payment for the pest control work they were doing.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
Our accomplishments are still being realized to this day but one of the more obvious is the benefit of sustaining a functioning ecosystem within an orchard. Having natural insect predators that double as natural fertilizers is a win win. Our family, and most important my children, learned responsibility of caring for animals and the important role that they play. Having living lawn mowers reduced our mowing to the immediate lawn around the house.
Educational & Outreach Activities
I plan to post this report on our website as well as sharing the information with fellow farmers and marketers. I will post the link on our face book page. I plan to continue growing organic fruit and vegetables and teach my children as they continue to grow and learn these important values for the next generation.
For others who are interested in keeping birds in their orchard, I believe this study should offer encouragement. It may not be a silver bullet for eliminating the curculio beetle but if you don’t believe in dousing your food with chemicals it is a key component to a much more complex fix.
Moving forward we plan to continue keeping birds in the orchard and possibly trying other options. I have thought about renting or borrowing a piglet from a neighbor to let loose in the orchard once a week or every other week during the peak fruit drop to clean up the bad fruit. No matter what, I believe that this is a sustainable model that can be built on and modified and pays off over time.