Silvopasture is the intentional integrated management of trees, forages and grazing livestock for a production benefit.
Two approaches to silvopasture
Allowing livestock to graze in a natural woodland area without active livestock and forage grazing management is NOT considered agroforestry. Silvopasture can be created using two different approaches.
Establish trees into existing pasture
The right choice of tree crop (often matched to soils) allows you to carry on a profitable livestock operation while creating a long-term investment in timber or forest products.
- Young trees allow plenty of light for forage production.
- As trees develop, shade and wind protection will enhance livestock performance.
Establishing forages in the woods
By establishing select forages in a managed forest environment, the area can be jointly managed for grazing and timber production.
The key to successful silvopasture is forage production.
Factors influencing this system include having the light necessary for forage growth and response and proper rotational grazing.
- Adjust soil fertility to enhance forage development.
- Adjust light by reducing tree density and managing tree spacing.
- Keep trees appropriate for the site and of high quality.
- Match forage with grazing objectives and light availability.
Benefits and limitations
Silvopasture has many benefits, including:
- Pasture grasses and legumes seeded in the area help reduce erosion, provide high quality forage and decrease unwanted trees and brush.
- Grazing in the silvopastoral site helps reduce fertilizer needs by increasing the soil nutrient effectiveness through recycling of certain elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
- Long term income goals can be met using this system as trees are thinned out to increase the tree and forage growth.
- Integrating trees and livestock diversifies farm enterprise.
- Intensive management involve in silvopasture improves growth of high quality trees.
- Shading reduces stress and improves animal productivity.
- Diverse vegetation enhances wildlife habitat.
However, there are also some challenges, such as:
- Distance and access to water.
- Challenges establishing young trees.
- Challenges introducing forages to existing woodlands.
- Maintaining proper light levels.
- Fencing issues.
Economic and environmental considerations should be explored before starting this system. Land use zoning, tax regulations, plant and tree selection, and potential markets are important points to study.
The timber in the plot should be marketable, fast growing and high quality and should eventually provide an income for the landowner.
The forage chosen should be palatable, site specific, tolerant to the amount of sunlight it will receive and be responsive to intensive management.
In Minnesota, some native grasses that are a good choice are big bluestem, switch grass, Indian grass and timothy.
The goal of Early Boots Farm is to provide shade for cattle and improve feed quality. The owner is focused on having tree and forage cultivars that are available in large quantities, hardy, cold- and drought-tolerant, and trees that will eventually produce high-quality timber.
Early Boots Farm grazes over 80 lowline angus cattle. They use a grazing system known as Ultra High Density Grazing where they move the cattle multiple times daily on small areas of land.
Design at Early Boots Farm
- The farm has a double-row alley of red pine and white pine trees planted 10 feet apart with 40-48 feet between trees.
- Forage includes legumes of white clover, chicory, bird's foot trefoil.
- Grasses include timothy, tall fescue, meadow brome and perennial ryegrass.
- A piping system runs on the surface of the pasture that feeds a portable stock tank, which helps with multiple moves of cattle.
What they learned
- Match site with species requirements.
- Plan width of trees in design with width of mowing equipment and other farm equipment.
- Get soils and pasture ready before planting trees.
For more information
Silvopasture: Establishment and Management Principles for Minnesota is a best management practice manual that reviews all aspects of silvopasture.
The Silvopasture Learning Network is a joint program between Extension, the Sustainable Farming Association and Great River Greening. In addition to studying the impacts of silvopasture as an approach to restoring oak savanna ecosystems, this project aims to scale up the use of silvopasture for oak savanna restoration through outreach activities and development of a peer network to foster farmer-to-farmer learning, promote advocacy and facilitate volunteer efforts to expand natural resource conservation.
Extension educators are available to aid in designing a silvopastoral site.
Reviewed in 2020