One of the most fun things about owning sheep is watching them eat pretty much everything they can reach.
Foragers like sheep get into all kinds of things they aren’t supposed to.
They’ll even strip the bark off trees!
And as anyone with fruit trees will tell you, this is not good.
Sheep will eat the bark off your fruit trees and damage new buds. They use their mouth to explore and eat; no tree, brush, or shrub is safe. They’ll eat the leaves, fruit, and bark, which will prevent growth and limit the protection of the trees. Sheep also headbutt and rub on trees, which cause damage.
Are you thinking about letting your sheep graze near your fruit trees?
It’s still feasible to do this!
Keep reading to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of letting sheep graze in your orchard, as well as some protective measures to help minimize the damage to your trees.
Do Sheep Kill Your Trees?
As we mentioned earlier, many risks are associated with raising these animals in an orchard.
Like other grazing animals such as cattle or goats, sheep nibble all along the ground in search of good forage.
This is wonderful when you’re looking to get rid of pesky weeds and a small brush or if you have plenty of grass for them to eat.
Further Reading: Sheep eating brush and plants for clearing land
But if your fences close them in with apple trees…
Well, it suddenly isn’t so fun watching your animals munch on everything in sight.
Sheep have been known to nibble on accessible branches, bite into low-hanging or fallen fruit from the ground, and even eat fruit tree bark.
Furthermore, they may roughhouse the trees by headbutting or otherwise hitting them.
All this rough treatment is bad for apple or pear trees, especially if you don’t yet have mature fruit trees.
If the behavior keeps up, your trees will have difficulty developing fruit.
Eventually, they’re likely to die.
Trusting any farm animal with young or dwarf trees or mature, well-established trees is difficult!
But we’ll tell you some reasons to consider doing it anyway.
Are Sheep Good for Orchards?
It is, of course, important to take caution with fruit trees, especially while they’re young.
But caring for an orchard comes with difficulties your sheep might help combat!
For one thing, sheep and other grazing livestock keep weeds, grass, and unwanted plant life under control.
In the context of an orchard, every blade of grass counts!
If your trees compete less for resources like sunlight and water, they’re likely to mature more quickly and completely, which means they’ll grow healthier fruit.
For this reason, it’s very helpful to have livestock like sheep to aid in the control of plant life.
In turn, this helps keep pests to a minimum, which can only help the health of your orchard!
Furthermore, as we livestock owners know, your animals will love access to all the fresh grass!
Unfortunately, they’ll also love the access to the fruit and bark on apple trees in their pasture.
So, let’s think protection!
Preventing Sheep Damage to Fruit Trees
Considering the colossal effort fruit trees require from their owners, we know it’s devastating to lose even one!
But fear not because we’ve got you covered.
Here’s our list of protective measures, which we’ll go over in detail soon:
- Pay special attention to your animals’ nutrition
- Rotate pastures
- Fence off individual trees
Related: What fruits can sheep eat?
Ensure Your Sheep Are Getting Adequate Minerals
It’s true your farm animals enjoy the occasional bite of tree bark or fruit as a means of exploration.
However, they also sometimes eat these kinds of forage because of something their diet is lacking.
A mineral deficiency might lead your sheep to seek minerals from tree branches or fruit from your apple orchard.
Before letting your livestock graze around your trees, give them mineral blocks and salt licks to ensure they’re getting everything they need in their diet.
This won’t guarantee they leave your trees alone.
But it will help stave off bark and branch-eating for as long as possible.
Livestock owners often rotate pastures where their animals graze to avoid grubbing and other problems with the land, such as excess animal waste buildup.
This is a really important step if you let your sheep into your orchard.
Even if you have a mature apple orchard, for example, where it’s difficult for your animals to reach the branches, leaves, or buds of the apple trees you’re raising, the bark of your trees is at risk.
This is an especially big risk when your animals start to run low on fresh grass and weeds to eat.
If you rotate their pastures, they won’t spend so much time looking for extra food in your orchard.
This is one more precaution to lessen the chances of damaging your trees.
Fencing Off Individual Trees
Now, if your mini orchard is under attack by your backyard sheep, it may be time to consider fencing off your trees one by one.
Using livestock barriers or even more simple wire fences is a helpful way to keep your sheep from causing severe damage to your trees.
We highly recommend you combine this measure with the other two we’ve mentioned; give your animals mineral blocks and rotate their pastures.
Even if they still decide to nibble at the ends of branches and eat the occasional apple or other pieces of fruit, the barriers you put up will make scraping off bark or destroying whole branches much harder.
With a large orchard, this work would quickly become tedious.
So, if you still have problems despite the other practices we’ve suggested, it may be time to fence off your big orchard altogether.