Cattle producers can make timber work in their operation
The Ozarks features a great deal of wooded land and when utilized thoughtfully, timbered pastures (also known as silvopasture) can make a beneficial addition to livestock grazing and management programs, allowing producers to get the most out of every square inch of land.
Trees and wooded areas are necessary year-round simply as shade and windbreaks, Eldon Cole, livestock field specialist for the University of Missouri Extension, explained. Wooded pastures can be utilized as winter areas for livestock, but if calving, Cole suggested producers consider how easily they could get to a cow or calf that needed help in a forested area before placing livestock there.
With some management and planning, wooded areas can be more than just shelter, They can also grow grass, as well as provide additional sources of forage, and even create added income off of the land in the form of timber sales.
To create effective silvopasture, producers need to manage both the livestock and the trees.
Trees will need to be thinned enough to permit sunlight to reach the ground for grass growth, and livestock will need to be rotated frequently through silvopasture areas to avoid damage to the trees. While the management is twofold, the symbiotic relationship between the animals and the trees is very efficient. If the trees are thinned enough to let grass grow and animals are rotated regularly, the livestock will clear and eat the underbrush, as well as the grass, allowing more productive stands of timber to develop that producers can then harvest and sell for a profit.
If the trees in a producer’s silvopasture system produce nuts, this can provide an additional source of nutrition for livestock. Hogs are especially keen to utilize acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts and so on.
There are some things to watch for when utilizing silvopasture. Some types of trees can create health issues if the conditions are right. Wilted wild cherry leaves, oaks, buckeye and some locusts can produce toxins. Cole said poisoning is typically rare, but is possible. Producers will want to identify the types of trees within their pastures to be aware of any potential issues.
Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the best thing producers who are considering silvopasture can do is approach it with realistic expectations and a small-scale mindset.
“Establishing silvopastures of any kind will take an investment in time and money,” Philipp said. “Part of the costs can be offset with timber sales from thinning, but it is certainly best to have a budget in mind. Forage, if established in silvopastures, may not be nearly as productive as in open, dedicated pasture areas. Forestland is forestland for a reason, so establishing common forages may take some dedication and creativity.”