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Silvopasture Integrating Trees, Forages and Livestock

Silvopasture: Integrating Trees, Forages and Livestock

Silvopasture Establishment and Management Conservation Practice Information Sheet (IS-MO381)

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What is Silvopasture?

Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice that is specifically designed and managed for the production of trees, tree products, forage and livestock. Silvopasture results when forage crops are deliberately introduced or enhanced in a timber production system, or timber crops are deliberately introduced or enhanced in a forage production system. As a silvopasture practice, timber and pasture are managed as a single integrated system.

Silvopasture practices are designed to produce a high-value timber component, while providing short-term cash flow from the livestock component. The interactions among timber, forage, and livestock are intensively managed to simultaneously produce useful timber products, quality forages and profitable livestock operations. Overall, silvopastures can provide cost-effective economic returns while creating a sustainable system with many environmental benefits. Well-managed silvopastures also offer a diversified marketing opportunity that can help stimulate rural economic development.

Planning Considerations 

Before a new silvopasture practice is established, implications of merging forestry and livestock systems should be explored thoroughly for economic and environmental considerations. In addition, local land use, zoning, cost-share programs and tax regulations should be investigated. Forest and agricultural land may have separate zoning and land-use regulations accompanied by divergent tax assessments. Environmental requirements (e.g., planting trees, stream-side protection, wildlife habitat maintenance) may also vary with land use.

Plants

When making tree and forage crop selections, consider potential markets, soil types, climatic conditions, equipment needs, and species compatibility. On marginally productive lands, conifer trees are well-suited for silvopastures because they can adapt to diverse growing sites, respond rapidly to intensive management and may permit more light to reach the forest floor than hardwood trees. Select and use trees and planting/harvesting patterns that are suitable for the site, compatible with planned practices and provide desired economic and environmental returns. Clovers or other pasture legumes are often seeded into grass pastures to provide highly nutritious food for livestock and to convert atmospheric nitrogen into an organic form which plants and animals can use. Competition between trees and pasture is reduced by selecting pasture plants which either grow at a different time of year, or are more shallowly rooted than trees. For example, cool season grasses (such as orchard grass or timothy) and legumes (such as ladino or red clover) can be seeded into pine stands with little detrimental impact upon growth of either trees or pasture plants.

Trees in pasture provide shelter for livestock during periods of inclement weather. This can significantly improve animal performance during particularly hot or cold times of the year. Trees provide evaporative cooling, reduce radiant heat loss at night, and reduce wind speed. These buffered environmental conditions allow animals to spare energy for growth, particularly under hot conditions. Increased gain, milk yield, and conception rates have been reported for cattle or sheep grazing pastures with trees in warm environments. The tree/timber component should be capable of providing the desired products and be:

  • marketable

  • fast growing

  • native (if possible)

  • compatible with the site (soil, temperature, precipitation, planted forages).

Forage growing under the shady, low wind environment near trees tends to mature more slowly and, therefore, be lower in fiber and more digestible than that growing out in the open. The forage component should be a perennial crop that is:

  • suitable for livestock grazing

  • compatible with the site (soil, temperature, precipitation, planted trees)

  • productive under partial shade and moisture stress

  • responsive to intensive grazing management

Species selection for trees

Tree species should be used from an approved list for silvopasture species. Native trees should be favored where ever possible. The following tables are an abbreviated list of suitable tree species.

Suggested Upland Tree Species:
Species Scientific Name Species Scientific Name
Black oak Quercus velutina White oak Quercus alba
Red oak Quercus rubra Mockernut hickory Carya tomentosa
Black walnut Juglans nigra Persimmon Diospyros vigriniana
Shortleaf pine Pinus echinacea Sugar maple Acer saccharum

Suggested Bottomland Tree Species:
Species Scientific Name Species Scientific Name
Persimmon Diospyros virginiana Black Walnut Juglans nigra
Silver maple Acer saccharinum Pecan Carya illinoeinsis
Swamp white oak Quercus bicolor Bur oak Quercus macrocarpa
Green ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica Shellbark hickory Carya laciniosa
Tree Planting Stock

Tree planting stock should be at least 1-2 feet tall with at least a ½ inch caliper. The large initial size is required to facilitate their protection from fire, reduce competition from grass, and damage from livestock. Seedlings may be planted by hand or machine. Soil should be firmly packed around seedling roots. Newly planted seedlings should be protected until their height growth is above the browse reach of livestock.

Tree establishment

Tree establishment in existing grass fields can be difficult. Items to consider for tree establishment include:

  1. Site preparation – On sites that have been in pasture and are subject to compaction ripping the soil surface down or adjacent to the planted tree rows before planting will improve growth and survival.
  2. Weed control – At a minimum, vegetation should be controlled in a three-foot diameter around each tree or row for 2 to 3 years. 
  3. Number of trees – Pine are usually planted at a rate of 200 to 400 trees per acre and hardwoods are generally planted at a rate of 100 to 300 trees per acre.
  4. Protection – Protect the trees from grazing during establishment utilizing protective measures such fencing or by utilizing the field for hay until the trees are tall enough and strong enough to withstand grazing pressure.
Tree layout

Spacing distance between woody plants and row sets should be based on landowner objectives, tree and shrub environmental requirements, light requirements and growth periods of the forage, and machinery width needs.

Plant trees in single, double or triple row sets. Cluster plantings may also be used. When multiple row woody planting sets are used, stagger within row plantings (See diagrams in PDF).

For existing forest plantations/stands, reduce stocking levels to at least a 50% stocking level for the normal stand or adjust the canopy density to accommodate the needs of the forage species. Trees should be as uniformly spaced as possible for even shade distribution.

Species selection for grass/legumes

Forage species should be used from an approved list for silvopasture species. Grasses and legumes should be favored that are tolerant of partial shade and moisture stress, and responsive to intensive grazing management. Suggested examples of possible grasses and legumes for silvopasture use are listed in Table 2.

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