Agroforestry, discussed briefly in a previous Nature Notes, can be described as a combination of agriculture and forestry. It is designed to maximize yield from the land, especially in areas with limited space. Silvopasture, one of the six agroforestry practices, is the combination  of trees and livestock. This practice can provide farmers with several benefits that include: providing shade to livestock, creating additional forage, and in time, create a potential timber crop.

A silvopasture system may be the “low hanging fruit” of agroforestry. It is fairly easy to implement, and generally does not require loads of work. It also has several direct benefits to livestock as previously listed. A silvopasture can create shade for livestock, increasing their overall wellbeing during hot days. If fruit and/or nut trees are chosen, an increase in desirable forage can be grown and dropped by the trees. This can aid by increases in overall health due to greater nutrition, improved weight gain, and the flavoring of livestock meat. Timber production is another advantage, but is more of a longer term benefit. 

It is important to understand that a silvopasture is not the integration of livestock into woodland, but the introduction of woodland into a livestock pasture area. A common misunderstanding is that it is letting livestock loose in the woods. This simply is not the case. Many already forested systems can be sensitive, and are not suited for livestock intrusion. Often  dramatic changes and significant damage can occur if this is done. It is important to remember that silvopastures are still an intensively managed system.

Silvopasture layouts can be very simplistic, with trees scattered at random throughout a pasture area. However, some can be quite complex, with specific grazing rotations and fencing. Tree arrangements such as block or row plantings can be utilized, as well. By doing a block or row planting, a farmer can increase emphasis on timber or fruit production. However, most farmers do not want to take a large amount of land out of pasture, especially for a long term crop such as timber.

There is one main challenge with silvopasture system: damage to trees by livestock is common. This is particularly the case during establishment, as trees are often at risk of being trampled or eaten. Therefore, it is important to try to prevent this by using tougher tree shelters and stakes, or even fencing, if necessary. Once trees have become more mature, this becomes less of an issue. However, larger livestock can damage root systems, which can be fragile depending upon the species of tree. This means that careful tree selection is key.

Article by the FCFCDB

Nature Note for 3/3/2019