Managing Shropshire sheep in orchards

Shropshire sheep have a recognised ability to graze safely in conifer plantations without damaging trees but little research evidence about their potential in orchards.

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Field Lab Timeline

    6/10/2014 11:00:00 PM
  • First meeting and introduction

    First meeting and introduction
  • 9/8/2014 11:00:00 PM
  • Second meeting

    Second meeting
  • 11/12/2014 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial starts

    Trial starts
  • 6/8/2015 11:00:00 PM
  • Third meeting

    Third meeting
  • 8/22/2015 11:00:00 PM
  • Sheep removed from orchard

    Sheep removed from orchard
  • 12/1/2015 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial progression

    Trial progression
  • 2/1/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Results meeting

    Results meeting
  • 2/15/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Follow-up meeting

    Follow-up meeting
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    February 2016

    Further ideas for trialling

    Please see the documents attached for a full report of the field lab and its findings.

    During a follow-up meeting, the subsequent questions were posed for potential future trials, which could also increase the strength of the results found during this trial:

    1. Long term grazing plots within bush style orchards to measure impact of Shropshire sheep grazing and other breeds on tree health, soil health and grass quality.

    2. Stop-watch trials on a range of sheep breeds for an initial test to see how quickly they attempt to browse on trees. This would indicate the likely tree friendly or tree hostile sheep breeds.

    3. Quantifying the possible impacts from grazing sheep in orchards e.g. spray and fertiliser reductions, spray safety periods, contamination of apple crop by soil, faeces etc. Reduction of scab by the removal of leaf litter, increased air flow through the orchard and possible living soil enhancements.

    4. Identify the positive benefits of sheep grazing such as savings from mowing, reduced sprays and fertiliser, marketing of orchard reared lamb. These to be set against extra costs of fencing, water and labour.

    For 1 and 2 a sacrifice orchard area could be necessary.

    If you are interested in undertaking trials of sheep in orchards, please contact us on 0117 987 4572.

    Milestone: Follow-up meeting

    February 2016

    Completion of one year observing Shropshire sheep behaviour in fruit orchards

    The behaviour of Shropshire sheep in apple orchards was monitored over the period from May - December 2015. The sheep were put into the orchard for a second grazing period from December 2015 - February 2016.

    This field lab added to the knowledge that Shropshire sheep can be used to graze grass in orchards successfully. During the trial, the sheep did not cause tree damage by eating tree bark or branches. The need to mow the grass, apply herbicide and fertiliser was also reduced.

    To see the full findings please take a look in the field lab documents for this field lab.

    There is also more information on grazing Shropshire sheep in the UK on the AGFORWARD website: https://www.agforward.eu/index.php/en/Grazed_Orchards.html

    Milestone: Sheep removed from orchard

    December 2015

    Completion of initial year observing Shropshire sheep behaviour in fruit orchards

    The behaviour of Shropshire sheep in apple orchards was monitored over the period from May - December 2015. Findings can be found in field lab documents for this field lab.

    Milestone: Results meeting

    December 2015

    Second grazing period

    After the sheep were removed in August, it has been decided to put them back on to graze from December until the grass length dictates that they be taken off again. This is estimated to be early in the new year, around February. After this, the total number of grazing days can be calculated and the stocking rate reviewed along with the other measures and observations gathered, such as tree damage.

    Milestone: Trial progression

    June 2015

    Third meeting

    A meeting to review trial progress and the collated data from the trial farm. This meeting also included more detail on the economic pros and cons of grazing sheep in orchards, and an account of the management time for keeping sheep compared to topping the orchards. The group met at the orchard plot in Broome farm. There are 40 sheep grazing the plot until end of August and health and weight of the sheep is to be monitored as well as any tree damage.

    Milestone: Third meeting

    November 2014

    Grazing trial starts

    The trial to compare Shropshire sheep grazing in orchards with mowing grass started.

    On farm observations will be carried out by field lab members as in reference to the protocols in the achievement post below. At one trial in Herefordshire it was proposed to compare sheep grazed in an orchard plot of 350 trees to a similar plot mown but not grazed with a similar number of trees. All the trees are in bush form and they were planted a minimum of 5 years ago.

    Milestone: Trial starts

    September 2014

    Second meeting

    At a second meeting the group discussed how best to carry out on farm trials, including spraying and pruning etc. carried out in commercial cider apple orchards. These methods may restrict the time sheep may be kept in orchards. A host farm (Broome) volunteered to act as a trial site for grazing sheep in a bush type cider apple orchard. A broad set of trial protocols was discussed and agreed.

    These protocols included:
    1. Sheep grazing days (number of sheep multiplied by the number of days grazed in the orchard)
    2. Stocking rate
    3. Weight gain of sheep when in the orchard (in and out weights)
    4. Dates of sheep entering and leaving the orchards.
    5. Weight of sheep when entering and leaving the orchards.
    6. All inputs to the sheep such as minerals/supplements and veterinary treatments.
    7. All inputs and treatments to the orchard plots – details of sward topping, sprays used etc.
    8. Tree damage at start and end of trial, including the number of trees with broken branches.
    9. Tree canopy measurements (bottom and top) for a sample of 30 trees in each plot, taken at the start and the end of trial.
    10. Apple yields from each plot: weights of trailer loads, number of trailer loads.
    11. Varieties of apple trees in each plot.
    12. Soil types in both orchard plots.

    This will feature a trial plot of 5 acres with a good perimeter sheep fence and water. The group would like to progress towards the development of protocols for grazing sheep in orchards.

    Milestone: Second meeting

    June 2014

    First meeting

    Showle Court, Ledbury: Following introductions from group members of farm details and interest in looking at the potential for grazing Shropshire sheep in fruit orchards, Liz Bowles (first coordinator) detailed past research into the management requirements for keeping Shropshire sheep in orchards and Emily Durrant from the Bulmer Foundation discussed research carried out in 2010- 2012 in Herefordshire on the effects of Shropshire sheep grazing in fruit orchards. Key findings were that Shropshire sheep do not generally bark trees unlike most sheep breeds, but they do raise the canopy height of bush trees. This was considered acceptable by the orchard owners. The group then observed Shropshire sheep grazing at Showle Court where the Clay family have a flock of over 200 Shropshire sheep and routinely graze the sheep in their cider apple orchards.

    This field lab has made contact with the Agforward project led by Cranfield University with this group being associated with the high value trees work package of this project. Key drivers were reduced mowing, additional complementary enterprise (2 crops from one acre), reducing costs, increasing sheep sales, and increasing knowledge of how to keep Shropshire sheep in orchards.

    Please see more on the AgForward orchard grazing project here: https://www.agforward.eu/index.php/en/Grazed_Orchards.html

    Milestone: First meeting and introduction

  • Findings

    February 2016

    Field lab conclusions

    This trial was undertaken from 2015 to 2016 on a Harry Masters variety orchard of 5 acres with 40 Shropshire sheep. Over the year, no damage was done to tree bark or branches by the sheep. There was some leaf nibbling of lower branches over the summer, but nothing to raise concern or affect apple yield.

    The need to mow grass beneath the orchard was reduced to one pass instead of the usual three. If the sheep had been introduced to the orchard earlier and the stocking rate been higher, there would have been no need to mow.

    The need for fertiliser and herbicide use was also reduced with grazing the sheep.

    This trial produced 134 total grazing days between May 2015 and February 2016. Over the whole year this represents a stocking rate of around 2.5 ewes / acre. This could be increased if timing regulations on removing sheep from the orchard are altered and sheep are put in earlier in the year.

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