Grazing silvopasture benefits during summer slumps

One of the many challenges that graziers face during the summer is the dreaded summer slump, especially on summers with limited rainfall. There are various strategies that graziers can employ to combat this issue. A few potential strategies include: lower the animal stocking rate in late summer (which is often not practical), plant annuals which will be ready for grazing in late summer, or devote certain pastures to warm season grasses. These strategies can all work, but there is increasing interest in an additional option: silvopasture.

Graziers may choose to employ the practice called silvopasturing, which pairs grazing livestock with a perennial crop, such as oak trees or hazelnuts. The trees on the pasture are managed in manner that allows enough light to penetrate the canopy that allows for forage to grow underneath the trees. The perennial crop is managed in manner that also allows for harvest of product (timber, nuts, berries, etc.) that builds in additional income from the pasture, rather than just livestock sales.

Silvopasture helps natural resource conservation too, primarily by ensuring per-ennial forage cover so that there isn’t bare soil that can be washed or blown away.  Having trees or shrubby plants in the pasture also provides cover and nesting sites for wildlife.  Trees can slow heavy rainfall more than forage, allowing for additional infiltration of rainwater into the soil, helping limit the amount of water that washes across the soil.

Not all types of trees are suited for being used in silvopasture. Oaks work well as the canopy of an oak tree is thin enough to allow light to get down to the soil level for forage production. Conversely, maples may not be as suitable as they have a denser canopy, preventing less light from getting down to the level where forage would be growing. Likewise, not all types of forage work well in this system. Orchardgrass, kura clover, and reed canary grass are a few species that have done well in some systems.

Grazing silvopasture pro-vides some animal benefit beyond the forage: in the peak of summer, once the trees or other woody shrub are mature, shade is provided to livestock while grazing. This is ad-vantageous as most pastures for livestock don’t have trees or only have limited sources of shade for the herd. The shade will help prevent heat stress which isn’t good for animal well-being or growth. Additionally, strategically planted trees can be a great windbreak in winter.

While silvopasture calls for additional management to ensure that livestock don’t damage the trees or other shrubby plants, over the long-term, the added income from also having a perennial crop on the pasture can help with sustainability of the farm.