Monday, December 7, 2009

Avocado Drama

As I mentioned in a previous post, I planted a couple of Mexican Avocado trees in the corner of the garden.

The pieces of concrete are there to keep the chickens from digging up the roots and to maybe provide a touch of thermal mass for frost protection.  We did just have a 28 degree killing frost the other night that finally did in a few squash, potato and tomato plants that were still hanging around but the avocado trees did fine with no additional protection. I will be covering them after the rain passes just in case.

Anyhow, after I planted them, I was googling something about avocados and stumbles upon frightening warnings of toxicity. I read that avocado leaves, stems, skin and pits were toxic to dogs, birds and other pets. Yikes! Fortunately the dog cannot get into the chicken/fruit tree area but chickens are birds, right? I looked and looked specifically for information about chickens and found speculation on chicken keeping websites, but no hard evidence. Then I found this farm blog where they are using chickens to control grass and weeds between rows of avocados.  If you read the comments section of that post, you can see my question and the farmer's answer. She has never seen any evidence of toxicity and all kinds of other birds hang out in the trees. That made me feel better.  The other thing that has made me calm down about it was some nice folks at the California Rare Fruit Growers, which I just joined. Specifically, Julie Frink (avocado expert) wrote:

    "Mexican avocado leaves can be used as tea or flavoring when roasting meats. They can be eaten skin and all.  It is the Guatemalan varieties that have toxic leaves and seeds.  One of my friends tried to feed her chickens avocados but they wouldn't eat them.  Later she found out that birds should not eat avocados.  Our neighbors dogs eat avocados all the time.  Some cats love avocado and I've never heard of it hurting them.  I wouldn't think a chicken would be tempted to eat an avocado leaf and certainly not a seed.  As to pecking on a fruit.... We have birds in our fields some of whom make nests and raise families but I've never seen birds eat avocados and we have ripe ones on the ground all the time.  Our coyotes are beautiful with healthy coats from a diet of rabbits, squirrels, rats and avocados.  The squirrels, possums, raccoons, rats and mice like to visit us to fill their tummys with avocado.  I suspect you have nothing to worry about but you could check bird and chicken fanciers.  I'll ask my two friends who have chickens what experiences they've had."

I am guessing the chickens will be uninterested in the leaves, since they are kind of tough, although that doesn't stop them from eating fig leaves. I have decided to leave the avocado trees where they are. If it becomes a problem, I can always build a fence around them.

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