Silvopasture could save the world

Almost as much as the most ardent biodynamic farmer, we like cattle and trees and annual crops, too.  But annual crops and cattle can do severe damage to your land, if they are not managed properly.  And trees, unmanaged, can make annual crops impossible and shade out pasture.
Silvopasture is the integration of trees, livestock, and crops together on the same land to build soil quality, sequester carbon and create diversified income sources from timber, livestock, and annual crops.  The term silvopasture may be something that you haven’t heard before. If you graze livestock and have wooded or semi-wooded land on your property, silvopasture may be something that could benefit your operation. Agroforestry is the broader term used to describe any systems that combine crops or livestock with trees and shrubs.
silvopasture-in-missouri-harc
In recent years there has been more interest in these types of systems. Increasing land costs and the need to generate more income from an acre of land is one of the reasons for this interest. Other factors include an increased interest in ecologically integrated systems within agriculture.
Grazing livestock in wooded areas was once very common wherever there were trees in the US. Lack of management of livestock grazing in woods eventually caused foresters and conservationists to recommend keeping animals out of wooded areas. Cattle can cause damage including soil compaction, poor regeneration of woodland species, and damage to valuable trees.  Sheep and goats can do even more damage if not properly managed.

Today we have much better fencing equipment and materials to work with than our ancestors did. Some of us also have more knowledge about managing forages, trees, and livestock. With care and intensive management, we can create and manage a silvopasture system that is resilient, productive, and profitable.  However, silvopasture systems will not work for the average weekend farmer or part-time farmer with a small herd of cattle and some woods but a full-time job elsewhere.  You have to pay attention to your system at least daily.

The benefits of well managed silvopasture systems are plenty.  Shade alone can improve weight gain, milk production, and conception rates.  Silvopasture systems can provide shade without creating heavy use areas that concentrate manure deposition and create more fly issues.If you are interested in silvopasturing you need to start with the right location. Land with adequate water available and gentle terrain works the best. It is best to avoid  wetlands.  Degraded hillsides which have been subject to too many years of row crops are some of the best places to try silvopasture systems.

To be successful at silvopasturing and not destroy your land, you need to have better than average knowledge of both silvoculture and grazing.  Do your research first.

  • Look for on-line resources. There are a number of temperate agroforestry sites with good articles and information on silvopasturing, though much of the information will need to be extrapolated to your own situation. The “Guide to Silvopasturing in the Northeast” and other silvopasture resources are currently available under the “publications” section of http://www.forestconnect.info.
  • Develop woodlot management and animal husbandry skills, and then gradually look for ways to symbiotically combine the two systems in a context appropriate for your own property.
  • Seek out local silvopasture practitioners to see what has worked for them. To ask questions and share experiences with silvopasturing, visit: http://www.silvopasture.ning.com
  • Work with a forester who is willing to help you learn and experiment. Expect some resistance at first when you mention the word “silvopasturing”, but foresters are trained to achieve landowner goals. They may lack the knowledge on the livestock side of the equation, but their expertise in vegetation and forest management will be invaluable.

Just couple more references to get you started:

http://www.centerforagroforestry.org/practices/sp.php

http://extension.psu.edu/plants/sustainable/production-tips/silvopasture

Silvopasture in the Southern US:

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/sc/newsroom/stories/?cid=nrcs142p2_015619

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