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Silvopasture

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.

Silvopasture design

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For more information

Silvopasture: Establishment and Management Principles for Minnesota is a best management practice manual that reviews all aspects of silvopasture.

Extension educators are available to aid in designing a silvopastoral site.

Diomy Zamora and Gary Wyatt, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2020

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