Silvopasture practices increase farm productivity through the simultaneous production of trees for timber, forage for grazing, and livestock for food products that work together to create a healthy ecosystem. The system provides environmental benefits like carbon sequestration and soil enrichment. But what is silvopasture and how does it play a role on the dairy farm?
Silvopasture, a type of agroforestry, is the practice of integrating trees, forage, and grazing animals like cows in a mutually beneficial way. This model combines timber and pasture lands. The term gets its name from “silva,” the Latin word for “forest.”
A benefit of silvopasture is an increased utilization of farmland. The system incorporates unused woodlands to produce multiple products on the same acreage, like fruit, nut, and timber production. This also increases wildlife populations and diversity. It contributes to carbon sequestration, or the practices that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
To manage the health of the land, animals are always on rotation regarding where on the land they graze. Regenerative practices require the herd to graze in one spot for only a few days at a time. Moving animals reduces their exposure to disease, but that is not the only positive impact. Proper rotation of animals allows for the land to recover and not be overused, maximizing the forage options to feed on. Animals receive the highest quality of food possible as they discover fresh choices of grasses, fruits, and nuts.
Trees in silvopasture systems provide cows protection from the sun and wind, which contributes to improved animal comfort and production. Cows prefer temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stress can cause a loss in appetite, leading to a drop in milk production, but it can also weaken the cow’s immune system, making shade a necessity. Trees provide shade in the summer and ease the impact of harsh winds in the winter, allowing livestock to stay comfortable throughout the day.
Silvopasture is an option for farmers looking to diversify their land or avoid clearing if possible. The system utilizes more resources found on the farm that would not otherwise be contributing to feeding the community. Combined with sustainable farming practices, this allows farmers to increase production and positively impact the land’s health.