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Chicken Orchard: Backyard Food Production!

The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.–Thomas Edison

 

Inspired by this Edison qoute, I recently finished a year long project.

I finally completed my “Chicken Orchard.”

When talking to my patients, athletes, and family about health, performance or wellness the topic always drifts to food.

When talking about high quality food “Farm raised” and “Homegrown” come up a lot.

Today I’ll share my own adventures in backyard food production!

The Chicken Orchard began as my personal farm experiment to produce high quality food with limited initial and ongoing inputs. I believe our best health stems from consuming high quality food.  Wanting the best for my family and community, I utilized a design science known as “Permaculture” to plan and construct a polyculture fruit orchard.  Carefully selecting each tree variety for my climate, I sought long term production of Peaches, Plums, Mulberries, Olives, Grapes, Apples, Figs, citrus and Nectarines.

The orchard design has numerous functions “stacked” to decrease work/material inputs both short and long term.

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Early Swale Prep. Irrigation in place

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Swales on contour to prevent water flow off property

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the base of the design, the orchard sits on a carefully designed series of swales (Level ditches) designed to capture water during heavy rain events. The trees are planted downhill from the swales thereby gaining the advantage of concentrated water accumulation in our very hot dry climate.

Utilizing swales in dry climates has shown to concentrate water below the surface in deeper soil layers. Increasing hydration improved soil conditions for the trees despite typically drought-like conditions in my area.

(Click Here to See Swales in Action)

The next layer of functionality included a simple multi-stage valve irrigation system.  This low cost system gives me easy control  over a very basic sprinkler/irrigation system decreasing tree losses due to drought.  (My part Texas just spent nearly 5 years in a drought, not taking chances going without back up water!)

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Pre-Chicken Introduction

Swale fully planted with edible cover crop beneath trees.

Swale fully planted with edible cover crop beneath trees.

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Cover Crop Keep Tree Roots Cooler

Nectarine Tree

Nectarine Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trees are planted in close proximity and with alternating species. This permaculture practice decreases disease spreading from tree to tree as one normally might experience in a single tree species orchard. Alternate planting also decreases bug predation as many species of insects prefer one type of fruit. Alternating varieties of fruit or even species confuses insects and makes them more prone to predation from birds as they “hunt” for their next favorite tree.

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In order to minimize tree maintenance costs I decided to try a technique called silvopasture land management. Silvopasture systems utilize animals to graze in and around major tree systems (Forests) thereby accumulating animal wastes in the orchard system. The waste decomposes and becomes natural fertilizer for the fruit bearing trees.

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The Chicken Orchard is Born

I had already kept a flock of 20-30 laying hens behind my barn in a fairly typical paddock. I decided to build a series 6 paddocks in and around my aforementioned orchard and move these laying hens into a new more dynamic environment. The paddocks all were dsigned for access from a central, custom built chicken house.

Each paddock was either joined directly to the chicken house or linked with a common fenced walk-way. On any given day the chickens are released from their protective shelter in the morning into a paddock to graze, chase bugs, eat weeds, and generally fertilize my trees.

Central Chicken House

Central Chicken House

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Access Panels for Easy Egg Recovery

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Bingo

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Plenty Parking Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see from photos of the chicken house, the plans included easy access to layer boxes, doors for ventilation and various access point doors to control or vary access depending on orchard conditions and my desire to use the chickens in a given paddock.

My daughters often felt hassled by dealing with our roosters. The coop design, imbedded in the orchard system decreases the need to enter spaces that challenge the rooster. I built layer box access doors and a series of pulley’s and doors to allow shifting access without direct confrontation or agitation of the hens.

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So now I have a low maintenance, eco-friendly environment that should sustainably yield crops of various fruit in the coming years. The orchard will provide an ideal home for free-ranging chickens that will produce meat and eggs for our family and community while simultaneously controlling insects and weeds in our paddock shift chicken orchard.

As a bonus, any dropped fruit or excess falling to the ground during harvest time will provide supplemental feed for the chickens. Supplemental feed means a decrease in total grain feed bills and reliance on trucking in sacks of feed every week.

The paddocks allow me to control access throughout the orchard thereby giving me the ability to manage pressure the chicken population places on the land/orchard.

PURPOSE/FUTURE

I started this project because I want to make sure my family has the best source of food possible.  I know the food produced in this orchard will be chemical free, hormone free, and pesticide free.  The design helps with the other valuable commodity–time.

As a health provider, I hope sharing this little farm project inspires others to consider backyard food production.

With the right forethought and committment home grown food can be a reality.

If you are interested, I’m planning on doing seminar covering this project in greater detail in the coming months.  I’m also considering tours of the Orchard those interested in design details and more in-depth discussion of home grown food options.  

Leave a comment here if you’d like to be notified of that and related presentations.

 

Special Thanks

Jack Spirko (www.Thesurvivalpodcast.com) for permaculture inspiration.

Permaculture consultant Nick Ferguson for his design recommendations.

 

 

 

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Janice Kimball September 12, 2015, 7:25 am

    Love it. I would really enjoy attending any kind of permaculture event or tour.

    • William Curtis MD September 14, 2015, 9:55 am

      Janice, I’ll keep you in the loop. I’m thinking about a fall seminar or farm event to expand on this idea with others.

  • Debra Bartram September 12, 2015, 7:59 am

    All of that hard work will pay off. I would also enjoy attending any related events or tours

    • William Curtis MD September 14, 2015, 10:08 am

      I’ll alert you both as soon as those events are scheduled. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Janis and Charles Simons September 12, 2015, 4:54 pm

    Dr. Curtis. My name is Charlie Simons. I’m the Market Manager for the Kingsville Farmers Market. Love what you’re doing. Would like a tour of your place and discuss participation in our market. We are always looking for quality vendors. My wife, Janis, and I are firm believers in preventive medicine through diet and exercise and your message would be of great value at our market. V/R Charlie. 361 455 1846

    • William Curtis MD September 14, 2015, 10:08 am

      Charlie I’d love to talk and explore how we can work together both to facilitate whole food access but also messaging opportunities related to whole food nutrition as it relates to better health.

      I’ll have my Clinical Operations Manager, Wes Burns contact you to set up preliminaries. Thanks for commenting.

      I hope you will share this topic with others in your community!

  • Simone Hardy September 13, 2015, 1:35 pm

    Good work! Would enjoy seeing it and buying some eggs:)

    • William Curtis MD September 14, 2015, 9:59 am

      Very, very soon we will be offering more and more whole food options both at the Sunrise Farmers Market and day to day at the FFFM Clinic store. I am determined to marry the idea of whole food nutrition to health!

      Eggs already available at clinic supplies limited though. I’ll have several dozen at the market this weekend.

  • Denise Otahal September 14, 2015, 8:26 am

    Yes, would enjoy seeing this!

    • William Curtis MD September 14, 2015, 10:02 am

      Thanks for feedback!

      I’ll keep you in the loop with Farm visits and clinic seminars….

      Don’t forget upcoming farmers market. This Saturday 9-1 pm. Tell your friends, this is important work educating folks about the link between real food and health. (Sunrise Farmers Market)

  • Becky Postel September 14, 2015, 4:42 pm

    I want to know more!

    • William Curtis MD September 16, 2015, 7:00 am

      Becky, I’ll post updates soon. Of course keep an eye out at the clinic store. You will see more and more farm products from our farm and others locally. As a clinical team we want to marry the idea of locally grown, whole foods as a cure for illness. Missed you at last seminar! More of those coming soon….maybe I’ll do one discussing the orchard and backyard food production?

  • Kyle clark September 19, 2015, 2:46 pm

    Great post! We’ve been looking at our place trying to figure out where to start. Would love to know when you have a tour. Thanks

  • Joanna Stubbs May 9, 2016, 1:12 pm

    I would like to learn more about the orchard set up.

  • Christinna Elizondo May 26, 2016, 10:43 pm

    We live in Petronila country and definitely want to learn more about raising our own chickens/eggs/& produce. We have the space and desire.

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