Silvopasture: Livestock, Forage, and Trees
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Livestock, Forage, and Trees = (Silvopasture)
I have to admit that I was skeptical about silvopasture, which basically combines trees, livestock, and forages into a single system on one site. I attended a silvopasture training in Pender County several years ago and I was amazed by the amount of fescue grass growing under a couple hundred acres of loblolly pine trees. This silvopasture looked really good, and if curb appeal improves house values, I would assume pasture appeal could also improve farm values.
Silvopasture can be a way for landowners to diversify income sources. A possible win-win situation providing annual income from grazing as well as long term profits for fast growing, high value saw-logs. The farm owner mentioned that the shade from the pine trees extended the forage (fescue) growing season and also improved the comfort levels and weight gains for summer grazing animals. The farm owner also mentioned that this was a good place to stockpile (store fescue for later winter grazing). He mentioned that the trees provided very good shelter during high winds, rain, and snow. The canopy is usually managed at 25 to 45 percent cover for warm season grasses and 40 to 60 percent cover for cool season grasses. Thinning is done every 5 to 7 years. The farm owner estimates that it costed him about $200 per acre to establish his silvopasture. This may seem like a lot per acre to some, but I could see hundreds of round bales of hay equivalent in forage under his trees. I know that some of the larger cattle farms in Harnett County can easily feed 1,000 or more round hay bales during the winter. Winter hay costs are one of the biggest expenses for cattle producers in our area of NC. My point is that it does not take many of these round bales to cost $200. The added benefit of increased plant diversity that helps attract wildlife species including wild turkey, quail, deer, and song birds is another benefit of a silvopasture.
A silvopasture has to be managed properly. Grazing animals should be moved from pasture to pasture in a rotational grazing system. Animals are typically left in a pasture for 3 to 4 days. The animals are removed and the forage is then allowed to grow for at least 30 days before grazing again. Animals should not be left in the same area for long periods of time because soil compaction can damage the roots and promote insect and disease damage of the trees. These are just a few of the many basic principles of silvopasture. For more information contact Brian Parrish with the Harnett County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-893-7530.