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Using turkeys for woodlot scarification

If you need to resurrect an old woodland, get some turkeys
Photo courtesy University of Missouri

Every forest floor is loaded with tree seeds just waiting for the right soil conditions to germinate. You could use a rake or a scarification tool to turn over and mix up the mineral soil underneath, but that’s a lot of work. Get some turkeys instead and let them do it.

Brett McLeod is forestry professor, author, and homesteader in upstate New York. He says most of the work that the turkeys do is with their feet.

"They’re looking for insects, worms, centipedes, millipedes, caterpillars, anything that’s down tucked in that organic layer," says McLeod. "It’s a great strategy for raising turkeys because you can cut down on your feed bill by 25%-30% by allowing them to naturally supplement their diet with what’s on the forest floor."

McLeod says this should only be done once-a-year, and you can over-do it. If the turkeys are allowed to peck and scratch too long in an area that’s too small, they’ll compact the soil and decimate the seed bank. He recommends “mob grazing”, where a bunch of turkeys are brought in for a short period of time, and then moved on to a new section.

"Up to a dozen turkeys works well," says McLeod. "If you have a turkey house at the center that you can allow them to roost in at night and then simply set up portable paddocks using poultry netting around, you can move sort of like around a clock and have pie sections that they intentionally and intensively mob graze for usually a day or two at a time before going on to the next section."

The best turkeys for woodlot scarification are the heritage breeds. McLeod says they still have the instinct to stir up the ground, whereas this characteristic has been bred out of many commercial breeds.

Learn more about woodlot scarification

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