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Grazing Cattle In The Woods
Grazing cattle in the woods has been against the advice of the USDA since the 1930’s. Foresters also cringe at the damage animals can do to trees. But, woodlots and cattle can coexist, says Diomy Zamora, University of Minnesota Extension Educator in Agroforestry. It just takes the right management.
  Zamora’s goal is to demonstrate a “better way to do that through silvopasture.”
  “Silvopasture is an integration of trees, livestock and forage,” Zamora says. “You have to manage the forest for the production of forages underneath.”
  Remove low quality trees to allow more light in and incorporate seed to grow better forage.  For Dan Caughey, that meant cutting aspen and other low value and less hardy trees and keeping varieties such as burr oak that can handle cattle pressure. The Fort Ripley, Minn., livestock farmer was part of an extension demonstration comparing open pasture, wooded pasture and silvopasture. After removing trees in the silvopasture plot, clover and timothy seed were hand sown in the fall before the cattle were let in the woods to pack the seed in the soil. By the following summer the grass was ready to graze.
  Grazing must be controlled, emphasizes Tyler Carlson of Sauk Centre, Minn., who gives his cattle between 1/2 to 1 acre per day when grazing through his oak silvopasture, depending on the forage available and animal units in the herd. The wooded pasture provides forage during the hottest days of summer, and he monitors it so that the cattle don’t overgraze or bother the trees.
  After 6 years he’s noticed a few benefits regarding buckthorn and new tree growth. Before the cattle grazed in the woods, he thinned out the ironwood trees and removed as much buckthorn as he could. Now the cattle take care of buckthorn regrowth.
  “I’m pretty encouraged because I’m getting buckthorn control. Cattle love it. It’s the first thing they graze,” Carlson says.
  As a result, oak seedlings are popping up everywhere - something he hasn’t had before.
  Carlson also practices another form of silvopasture - planting trees in pasture. He planted double rows of Norway and White Pine trees 8 ft. apart in 300 to 350-ft. long rows with 50-ft. wide strips of open pasture between them.
  “Conifers are easy to get established in pasture, and there are potential markets to sell the trees,” he says. “The idea is that they will reduce heat stress on the cool season grass and minimize summer slump in pasture growth.”
  Studies in Missouri show that shade from trees extends the grazing period by at least 2 weeks, and there is more nutrition in the forage, which nets more weight gain in livestock.
  “Cattle like the shade,” Caughey agrees, and he is opening up more pastures on his wooded ground to make better use of his land.
  “The biggest value of silvopasture is using wasted land,” Zamora says.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Diomy Zamora, 1530 Cleveland Ave. N., St. Paul, Minn. 55108 (ph 612 626-9272; zamor015@umn.edu).

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2018 - Volume #42, Issue #6