Chickens in Orchards

It’s peach season. I have one tree. This year’s crop was not only sparse, but also wormy. After cutting away the bad parts (and feeding to the chickens) I had only 2 small bowls of peaches for breakfast. This afternoon I’m going to a farmers market to buy peaches, as the season is fleeting and I need some for eating, and a bushel to freeze for pies this winter.

Starting this fall, I’m going to try a new method of peach borer worm control. Chickens. A few of my vintage poultry books detail how to integrate a flock into a fruit tree management scheme. The damaged, dropped fruit carries the worms to the ground, which then overwinter in the soil under the trees. In the spring they emerge and do damage. Ravenous chickens stop that cycle, shredding and eating the plant matter that the grubs hide in, and eating every stage of the pests. Makes sense. I’m going to put a temporary fence around my tree and set the industrious Gems to clearing the area of bad bugs.

Here’s a photo of three boys (see the one in the tree?) harvesting peaches.  I believe that the photo dates from the early 1920s.

Here’s a closeup. Those peaches look ripe and edible to me! What a bountiful harvest, thanks in good part to the hens underfoot.


  1. I’ve always wanted an orchard for the hens to forage! We have a cherry tree and a fig tree in the Hen Garden, and they love rooting around under them, esp if the fruit is in season. We also have an apple tree … but that’s in the main the garden so is off limits much of the time.

  2. I love this picture—I can taste those peaches! I’ve got two beehives in my tiny orchard, so that’s out-of-bounds for the chickens. Too bad, because I’ve got borers too. But thanks to the ubiquitous squirrels, I rarely see the inside of a ripe peach, anyway! Sigh.

  3. Terry, I wonder if that would work for flat-head borers in my apple orchard ? They have a similar life cycle, what do you think?

    • Yes, those borers are similar. Before pesticides it was common practice to use poultry in orchards. Geese, too. I think there’s probably a way to do it that works, and that just putting a few chickens in an orchard is likely not that effective. I will have to go back through my vintage material and see if I can find out how many chickens are required to handle the insects, etc.

  4. That’s an amazing peach tree! Love the vintage pictures you are sharing. I have been wanting a peach tree ( I remember having one in our yard as a child) but I am afraid I can’t find the perfect spot for one. They need A LOT of sun don’t they?
    My brother just planted a bunch of nut and fruit trees. I’ll have to tell him to let his girls out to protect them from worms in the spring.

  5. I have a peach tree that is just finishing up. My hens run the moment they hear a fruit fall. Had no idea they might have been helping out in other ways.

  6. I’m in 70ies so childhood a long time ago but we prefered the apples from tree in neighbors chicken yard because – no worms. Everyone had chickens but most apple trees were outside of chicken yards. I was “permitted” to grind corn through an old wall mounted coffee grinder to feed chickens.

    • Rose, so interesting! Thanks for confirming the usefulness of hens in orchards. I’ve been looking at flea markets for one of those grinders (actually, I want one of the “green bone” grinders) to use to shred kitchen waste for the hens.

  7. We put up bluebird houses and now have no corn boarers in our corn! They are great at catching the moths as they fly around. And don’t forget to put on snake gaurds or you could be feeding baby birds to the snakes!
    And thanks to the chickens our peaches don’t have worms but the apples do. Maybe the girls don’t get up to that corner offen enough.

  8. What a great idea (reminder :) to have chickens forage under the fruit trees! We’ve planted a few peach, plum, pear, cherry and apple trees over the past couple of years and they are starting to give us some fruit. For sure, we will soon be expanding the girls’ range to allow them to enjoy the fruit with us!