Silvopasture is a word that many farmers, small and large will hear pushed their way a lot. It’s heavily promoted by environmentalists, foresters, and even the USDA. However, looking up definitions makes it all sound rather complicated and daunting.
Thankfully, it’s a rather simple process. It’s not a perfect farming method by any means, but it does offer some great benefits that would help out many farmers. If you take the time to read up on the method a bit more, you may find it’s a perfect option for your farm’s needs.
What Is Silvopasture?
Silvopasture is the blending of livestock and trees in the same area. Generally, when someone owns grazing animals like sheep and cows, they are kept in a pasture. There may be one or two trees, but nothing extreme.
However, silvopasture pushes to change that. Instead of cutting down trees to make a pasture, it’s suggested you try blending your livestock with a forest. This forest can be one already established, or one you establish, such as when planting trees to sell timber. It’s considered a regenerative farming method because it increases the growth of both the animals and the trees.
Silvopasture is a method heavily promoted by environmentalists and foresters because it benefits the environment. Silvopasture managed to absorb up to 70 percent more carbon dioxide than traditional pastures. It also improves water and soil quality.
While it does help the environment, that’s not its only benefit. It also helps the farmer in many different ways.
The 5 Benefits of Silvopasture
Now that you know what silvopasture is, it’s time to learn the benefits it provides to farmers and those with livestock.
1. Use Any Sort of Grazing Livestock
Any type of livestock does well with silvopasture, from the standard to the more unusual. Chickens, goats, sheep, emus, ostriches, bison, and caribou are some examples of animals that will thrive in a silvopasture system.
You do want to make sure that your environment, forest type, and animals all get along. You can’t just plant any trees with any animal in any environment and hope for the best. For example, sheep absolutely love bark. When you put them in a forest made primarily of saplings, you’ll find that they will do more harm than good.
2. Reduces Heat Stress
One of the main benefits to your livestock is that they get to stay cooler during the summer. The trees provide shade to your livestock, allowing them to stay cool. This in turn reduces stress for the animals. When they are less stressed, they hold weight better and are more likely to reproduce.
In the colder months, the trees help maintain temperature. While it won’t be warm by any means, it may be less chilly in the forest on cloudy days than it is in a pasture.
3. Diverse Income Streams
By including trees in your livestock practices, you end up with multiple revenue streams. Not only do you have your normal animals that produce eggs, milk, wool, or meat, but you have other options as well. At the very least, you will have timber to sell. Because plants will grow quicker due to improved soil nutrients from the manure of your animals, you have a chance to turn around and sell timber at a relatively fast rate.
Depending on where you live and what else grows in your forest, you may have even more revenue. For example, during hunting seasons, you can let hunters onto your property for a price. Since silvopasture methods increase wildlife diversity, you could potentially sell hunting rights on your private land throughout almost the entirety of the year. Pine straw and select crops are another income possibility.
4. Weed and Underbrush Management
If you have a forest nearby, one of the biggest threats is fire. Weeds, pine needles, and bushes grow denser every year. A stray match or lightning could turn the forest into a giant inferno. By letting your livestock roam in the area, you reduce the risks greatly. They will eat and manage bushes and weeds, which reduces the fire hazards.
It also reduces the competition for space, nutrients, and light. This means that saplings can grow and thrive at a much faster rate than they would naturally, and it requires little to no effort on your part. The trees that do grow are often of much higher quality as well, which means a better price for your timber.
5. You Reduce Food Costs
By having a nutritionally dense and varied diet for your livestock that naturally comes from the forest, you reduce your food costs. Generally, when animals graze from a pasture, they need a bit more food to help them get all their nutrients and stay full. While you’ll still have to buy some food for your animals, it will be far less. This saves you money in the long run.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © juliannafunk/iStock via Getty Images
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.