Establishing a silvopasture is one land management strategy that can maximize an operation's productivity and income sources for the long term.
"The silvopasture or timber pasture is actually done on purpose. It mixes the trees, the forage and the animal all together. An important thing about it is to view it as a single system.
Don't get carried away looking at the cows alone," said Terry Clason, a Natural Resources Conservation Service forestry specialist from Louisiana. "It's basically a land use management system. The big middle word in there is management."
Clason spoke at a silvopasture training workshop held recently in Waskom in northeast Texas. Topics included establishment and planting schemes, along with forage management and grazing principles.
"You have plenty of forage to take care of the cattle and you take care of the trees," Clason said.
Personnel from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Texas Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Texas AgriLife Extension, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) attended the workshop. Ross Brown, NRCS district conservationist in Marshall, hosted the event at the family ranch.
Brown said he sees a trend toward older ranchers wanting to downsize and slow down, but not give up their cattle and forage production operations entirely. A silvopasture system can allow landowners to stay in a livestock business, while realizing additional benefits such as income from wood products or improved wildlife habitat and recreational hunting opportunities.
"My father is a cattleman. He came up here in the 60s and cleaned this whole farm up and got it going. He's kind of been battling me about planting pine trees forever, but he has pretty well given me the reins and said you do what you have to do," Brown said. "He told me the only problem he saw with this silvopasture is we didn't have enough of it."
Silvopastures can be intensively managed for grazing using livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep. Livestock can be rotated through the area in paddocks. A variety of warm and cool season forages can be utilized throughout the year. These areas normally receive plenty of light for forage to grow, despite tree canopies.
"There's so much versatility in the system," Clason said.
Five years ago Brown had a pine tree plantation that was ready for thinning. That's when he decided to establish a silvopasture.
"I had heard about silvopasture. I knew about silvopasture. I knew the concept," Brown said.
The plantation was initially thinned by cutting three rows of trees for corridors and leaving two rows. Debris was then cleaned up and a prescribed fire was done because of the stumps.
Brown said he has found the cattle like the silvopasture managed area. It's the last pasture to freeze out in the winter and the first to green up in the spring. This creates an extended grazing season, which can offset losses due to the reduced stocking rates needed for the area, he added.
"Again, you get a heavy utilization because of those two factors," Brown added.
He also realized a benefit from the cattle wanting to stay in the area during weather extremes.
"The second thing I've seen is that obviously when cattle choose to be here in these weather extremes, they're doing that for a reason. What we're doing I think is we're reducing their energy requirements during those periods. When we do that we're increasing profitability," Brown said.
Reduced energy requirements also can help save money spent on inputs such as supplemental feeding. The key is being more profitable with each animal unit, regardless of stocking rate, he added.
Then, there is the wood product.
"The value from the wood product is going to be there. Down the road at some point in time there's going to be a pretty good harvest," Brown said.
How the timber is marketed can determine how a pine tree plantation should be laid out in a silvopasture. Clason said landowners can lose some early harvest value from trees planted with narrow row spacing. Also, as trees grow and close in, there can be decreased forage production.
"When you go at a wider spacing, you're going to lose that early thinning, but for the nonindustrial landowners, you make your money from diameter growth," Clason said, adding that the key to growing saw timber is to give the trees room to grow.
Loblolly pines are commonly used in silvopastures. Clason has found that shortleaf pines can negatively impact forage growth. This pine species has an extensive lateral root system which lies close to the surface of the soil and competes with forages for moisture.
Hardwood trees such as pecan, hickory, or walnut are other options.
"I think we've been grazing hardwoods for a long time, when you look at pecan plantations," Clason said.
From a tree damage standpoint, Clason said when livestock have forages to graze, they don't bother the seedling trees too much. There can be some mortality from livestock walking on the seedlings.
Fencing and water sources should also be taken into consideration when planning a silvopasture.
Hot wire used as perimeter fencing can be challenging because the electricity can go out or wildlife can become entangled in it.
"Your cross fencing can be more efficient being hotwire, because you can move it, open it, close it, whatever you want and make different size paddocks if you chose without a lot of costs," Clason said. "It's fairly easy to do. The other thing with the wire, you can always drop it when you're harvesting."
Water should be available on site when managing for rotational grazing.
Brown has found that the farm's silvopasture area is beginning to provide a habitat that wildlife is drawn to.
"We have seen a pretty significant increase in deer sightings in this part of the ranch now," he said.
He attributes the increase in sightings to the additional shelter from the trees, available forages and additional space.
In the future, Brown said he'll be looking at income opportunities from recreational hunting off this area.
"My objective is to try and be as profitable as we can on these acres," he said.
A silvopasture land management system incorporates trees, livestock and forages in one area. Cattle graze in an established silvopasture on Ross Brown's ranch outside Waskom in northeast Texas.
Terry Clason, a Natural Resources Conservation Service forestry specialist from Louisiana, discusses forage and grazing principles and management during a recent silvopasture workshop held at Ross Brown's ranch outside Waskom in northeast Texas.
Personnel from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas AgriLife Extension and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, stand among the pines of a silvopasture. Ross Brown, right, NRCS district conservationist in Marshall, hosted the event at the family ranch. He visited with attendees about establishing and planting schemes of silvopastures.