The Benefits of Silvopasture

Learn about the practice of silvopasture and how it can benefit both the diversity of your land and the health of your animals.

| May 2019

Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

Usually, farmers and landowners get into silvopasture to take advantage of one or more of its benefits. In 2014 forestry professor and agroforestry advocate Joe Orefice interviewed 20 farmers in the Northeast who were intentionally practicing silvopasture on their land. His research found that the top four reasons these farmers were using this system were:

  1. Shade for livestock.
  2. Expanding pasture acreage and diversity.
  3. Increased utilization of existing farm woodland.
  4. Increased forage availability during midsummer and droughts.

Other less important reasons mentioned by respondents included diversifying livestock diet, overall animal welfare, the management of undesired vegetation, tree health/fertilization, and increased farm aesthetics.

Each landowner will have to determine for him- or herself what the main motivations are for engaging in silvopasture. While we can promote myriad benefits to farms and the land, in the end the ability to manage a system comes down to economics: Can we pay the bills or not? So think about arranging benefits in two categories: those that support the farm, and those that support the larger world community. Here, we will flesh out these benefits in order to get the big picture of silvopasture as one of the more remarkable agricultural systems available to us.

Benefits to the Farmer and Land

Most important to getting more silvopasture practiced on the ground are the opportunities it provides to farmers and land managers. The following can be seen as the foundation of an argument for silvopasture, while many of the secondary benefits are positive effects on the regional and global scale, described in the next section.

1. Increased use of farmland for production.

Whether or not it produces, land costs money to own. There are many acres of land that are in farms, but not used. These are often edges, hedgerows, and forestland. In New York State, for example, 21 percent of farmland is forest, much of which is only periodically visited and used for activities such as hunting, firewood harvesting, and a periodic timber harvest. Much of this forested land is not pristine woods but a mix of young trees, thorny shrubs, and thickets that don’t allow easy passage.

7/15/2019 6:22:57 PM

I watch a Homesteader/Farmer on YouTube and he just started using 3 Pigs and a couple Cows to clear some woods on his property that used to be pasture and turn it back into a shady pasture area for his chickens and cows. From what he is doing and showing in his videos I would say It definitely Works!! After the pigs get done in one area, within 3 days to a week later there is New grass starting to grow where before there was brush, thorny weeds, vines, and small trees that were not wanted. Then he cut down those small trees and any remaining brush and vines after the pigs got done on their 7 - 10 day grazing rotation. He did 2 small sections with just the pigs and then on the 3rd he put 2 cows in before the pigs, they cows were able to get higher up and then the pigs were able to get some of the plants the cows did not eat, plus the cows were able to knock over some of the smaller trees. I know it works with goats and sheep also, because a few years ago I saw on the one local news program a Municipality in a neighboring state was using this practice to clear brush and weeds from along roadway drainage ditches. They found a farmer that hired out his sheep and goats for clearing brush and weeds and they fenced in the area that needed to be cleared so the goats and sheep would not escape or get hurt, and after a few weeks the area was cleared enough to be partially mowed and have a crew go in cut down any unwanted trees and then remove the stumps and then finish mowing the area. If and/or when I get the money to buy land and/or to start raising animals I plan to do this as well.

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