Forest Management for the Farm
Proper woodlot management can generate fodder and income in addition to firewood.
This forest has a very dense understory, full of saplings.
Photo By Phil Shepherd
Timber sets — simply called the “woods” by most farm youngsters — are an integral aspect of country life. They offer wildlife habitat, firewood for heat, forage for animals, shade, wind protection and so much more. Often overlooked and thought of only in timber terms, there are multiple ways to create income from a small woodlot beyond selling saw logs. Read on and get the most from your wooded acres — be it for pasturing pigs or harvesting the occasional whitetail deer.
If your woodlot is loaded with briars, vines and overgrown understory, pasturing pigs will help clear the mess out so grasses or more beneficial trees and plants can be propagated. We pasture about four pigs per acre of woods, but with more grain and the right soil conditions, you can seasonally keep up to 25 pigs per acre, depending on breed size and other variables. Or if you have a sufficient area of mixed eastern hardwoods, you can let one pig roam three to four acres all summer and feed very little grain. Folks lucky enough to have an orchard (or one nearby) might consider allowing the pigs to keep the orchard grounds free of windfalls.
Grazing other livestock
While pigs are an excellent option because they root and clear space, woodlands can be grazed by any livestock. Goats and cattle are excellent options. Goats can be used to clear out growth that other animals won’t eat. Some breeds of cattle are better at eating the shrubs and such than others; our Dexter cattle will eat just about anything a goat would consume.
Grazing your woodland will give you more pasture, and you should be able to market your beef, goat meat and offspring locally. Pastured meat production commands a higher price in most cases. Laws vary by state for selling meat, so be sure to check the rules and regulations for meat inspection.
With no animals grazing, a diversity of plants can be cultivated in the understory of forests. In the more southern reaches of the United States, one might consider planting galax, ginseng, tea trees, or other medicinal plants. Decorative native shrubs such as azaleas or rhododendrons can also be grown and sold to homeowners or nurseries for landscaping use.
Ginseng is by far the highest paying understory plant, but it takes about six years to reach a marketable size. It requires a north-facing slope for optimal production. However, ginseng’s growing environment can be simulated. This plant grows wild as far west as the edge of Nebraska and as far north as Maine. You can grow ginseng by purchasing stratified seed or rootlets. Some farms offer starter packages for growers that include rootlets and seeds.
Tea trees are an excellent understory plant. Leaves can be harvested for green tea, pressed into tea tree oil — a common ingredient in many of the healthier cosmetics and cleansers — or cured for black tea. Processing tea is easy to do at home.
There are many varieties of tea trees available, just make sure the variety you are getting is suited to your U.S. Department of Agriculture growing zone. Tea can be grown as far north as Delaware, or USDA Zone 6B. With the popularity and price of coffee and tea continually rising, growing your own tea can save a lot of money over the years, and you can sell cured teas.
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