What Is Silvopasture and How It Can Benefit Your Homestead

Silvopasture is a hot topic in agroforestry and permaculture. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t do a great job of explaining what it is. So what is silvopasture and how can you implement it on your homestead?

What Is Silvopasture

Silvopasture is a system where animals are grazed in between rows of trees to provide nutrients for the soil, food for the grazing livestock, and both a short and long-term harvest, along with many other significant benefits.

What Is Silvopasture?

S​ilvopasture has a lot in common with alley cropping, but it also has a unique characteristic: it uses animals in conjunction with rows of trees to create two sources of production and income. Much like in alley cropping, trees are planted (often in rows) on a plot of land. Instead of cash crops, though, silvopastures contain forage for grazing livestock. This is typically either native pasture grasses or specially-planted forage crops like clover or alfalfa.

Animals are then grazed in a rotational pattern throughout the pasture. Animals will spend a day to a week in a small portion of the pasture and are then moved to a new section on a regular basis. This allows the animals to graze the area intensely without leaving them so long that they destroy the forage or trees.

A wide variety of animals are used in silvopasture, but here are some of the most common:

  • G​oats
  • Chickens
  • Ducks
  • Cows
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Horses
  • Wild animals (such as deer, elk, bison, etc.)

Mark Shepard Explains What Silvopasture Is and Demonstrates The Benefits Of It.

Benefits Of Silvopasture

Implementing silvopasture in an agricultural operation can offer a whole host of benefits. Let’s discuss a few of them.

S​ilvopasture can help offset costs for farmers. By offering grazing leases for livestock owners, silvopasture farmers can receive much-needed cash to make it through the season. This boost in income can also help pay for planting and maintaining the trees until they produce a viable harvest of their own.

Animals can play an important role in increasing soil fertility. By grazing animals on small sections of a pasture, an incredible amount of natural fertilizer will be added to the soil. The rest a section of land receives once the animals move on to a new pasture allows the land to recover and continue to produce forage.

Research to date suggests silvopasture far outpaces any grassland technique. That is because silvopastoral systems sequester carbon in both the biomass aboveground and the soil below. Pastures that are strewn or crisscrossed with trees sequester five to ten times as much carbon as those of the same size that are treeless. Moreover, because the livestock yield on a silvopasture plot is higher”

Paul Hawken

The trees in a silvopasture system can offer important benefits for the animals, too. They can provide necessary shade—an absolute must for animals prone to heat stroke—when man-made shelters are not available.

They can also provide valuable forage for the animals, helping to add variety to their diet. According to this Rutgers University study, free-range or pastured eggs contain more vitamins and nutrients than commercial eggs. Researchers believe this is because of the increased variety in a free-range hen’s diet: the more variety in an animal’s diet, the healthier they are.

Drawbacks Of Silvopasture

Similar to alley cropping, silvopasture agriculture requires more manual labor than normal grazing operations. Trees must be regularly pruned, protected, and watered in some cases depending on the livestock you’re grazing; pastures must be moved every few days to give the animals access to fresh forage.

W​hen managed improperly, animals may cause great harm to the trees in the silvopasture operation. Goats, for example, love to rip the bark off of trees if they aren’t offered enough other forage or moved on a regular basis, which may destroy the trees.

Planting dozens of trees is also a huge financial undertaking. This can be a large and seemingly unsustainable burden on farmers who are just beginning their operation.

Conclusion

If well planned and done correctly, a silvopasture can be a beneficial and productive form of farming. Creating a silvopasture system certainly has a few challenges but the benefits can outweigh those and provide long term abundance to a homestead or farm.

Resources

Homestead Scale Alley Cropping and Silvopasture

Restoration Agriculture
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Mark Shepard (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Silvopasture: A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, and Trees in a Temperate Farm Ecosystem
  • Gabriel, Steve (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages – 06/14/2018 (Publication Date) – Chelsea Green Publishing (Publisher)

Last update on 2024-02-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. Harold Thornbro

    Is silvopasture something you are practicing or plan on practicing on your homestead? Do you have any questions or comments related to silvopasture? Comment below.

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