Grazed orchards in Northern Ireland, UK

Description of system

The apple industry in Northern Ireland has 223 independent growers farming 1506 ha of orchards, with a typical field size of 1.5 to 4 ha. The grass strips between trees are generally mowed. Between May and the end of July, the apple trees are also typically sprayed every 10-14 days with a fungicide to prevent apple scab (Venturia inaequalis). Grazing the orchard with sheep may provide a means of reducing mowing costs and may help with scab control. At the meeting, some initial results of the effects of six sheep on the tree canopy and apple yields after an apple orchard for four days in August 2014 were presented.

Initial stakeholder meeting

The meeting on 3 December 2014 was attended by nine stakeholders including five apple growers. The area of the managed orchards ranged from 2 to 26 hectares. Perceived positive aspects of orchard grazing included animal welfare benefits and improved profitability. Perceived negative aspects were the complexity and the potential cost of fencing. Potential areas for research included the use of Shropshire sheep to graze orchards, and the grazing of leaf litter to reduce apple scab infections.

If you would like to know about the activity of this group, please contact Prof. Jim McAdam.

Download the initial stakeholder report

Download the initial research and development protocol

A research and development protocol was produced in February 2015

Download the system description

An update on the research with an apple orchard grazed with mixed-breed sheep was produced in November 2015.

Lessons learnt

Jim McAdam at AFBI describes the results of an experiment introducing sheep grazing to a low-height bush apple orchard.  Whilst there can be benefits from sheep grazing high pruned orchards, sheep can damage young bush orchards where the canopy starts below 1.2 m.  The report explains that successful grazed orchard programmes require an understanding of i) the form of the apple trees, ii) the spray programme, iii) the sheep, and iv) the level of management required.