Mike Johnson, Broome Farm, Peterstowe
Mikes orchards cover 50 acres; 38 in production for a Bulmer’s contract, leaving 12 acres of apples for Mike to produce his own cider which is blended with fruit from small local orchards.
Field lab: Management requirements for Shropshire sheep in fruit orchards
Most sheep will damage trees, but this heritage breed are better behaved! The sheep were grazed in the orchard for 40 days without any recorded damage to the trees. The sheep keep the grass mown, fertilise the soil and remove the need to prune low branches. Read more about this field lab.
Tell us about your farm
This is a family affair with me running the apple orchards and cider production and Toby, my nephew looking after the Shropshire sheep. My farm is non-organic but we are really interested in avoiding sprays when possible. I’m always looking for alternative controls for pests and diseases.
Grazing the sheep in the orchards gives us potential for two crops from the same acre – lamb and cider. This is helping to support Toby and his sheep enterprise as well as maintaining my cider production.
What are you hoping to find with this field lab?
I'm interested in what sheep can do to keep lower branches pruned without damage to the trees. Suckers growing from the base of trees can be expensive to prune and slow up mowing around the trees. The sheep have been nibbling these shoots down. It is helping us maintain a good air flow through the trees and should help with scab control – a major disease problem in the orchard. The sheep should also clear up leaves as they graze over the autumn, reducing the source of scab infection.
We find mowing beneath the trees is time consuming and often needs to be repeated up to 6 times a year. Grazing with the sheep could reduce this to only once or twice a year, maybe not at all in a dry year.
My vision is to have the sheep ranging over the whole orchard over winter to control the understorey ,but a more controlled grazing over the summer where orchard operations will need the sheep out of the way and rotational grazing will help control parasites.