Benefits of a silvopasture system

Let your animals graze in the woods and reap the benefits. A silvopasture is the practice of combining trees and grazing land. The method expands income and land management opportunities, especially for smaller acreages. Silvopastures also provide an attractive landscape with an aesthetically pleasing “park-like” settting.

Greg Ruark is a former director of the USDA National Agroforestry Center. He says if you’re letting acres of trees grow simply to tap into the pulpwood market, you may be limiting your land potential. 

"But instead if you go to silvopasture, usually planting maybe 200-300 trees an acre, which allows a lot more light to the ground, so then you can do things underneath. You can put in a forage system and graze cattle or goats or sheep, horses," says Ruark. "So if you’re looking for income opportunities, you can actually get an annual income from grazing. You can also, depending on what you put under there, even encourage wildlife, for example, quail, wild turkey."

In certain parts of the country, landowners may also receive incentives to establish a silvopasture to prevent wildfires and control pests. 

Creating a wooded pasture is more labor-intensive if you have to clear trees and open up the canopy to allow sunlight to reach the ground. Ruark offers a couple of other methods.

"The quickest thing is to plant it into an existing pasture because you already have the forage system started. So you get the trees in there and you just have to get some herbicide on them in order to keep the competition from the grass off them when they’re real little in the first year or two, so they get a chance to get rooted and started and then they’re on their way," he says. "The other would be to plant  them into a crop land, but then you have the added cost of paying for the grass seed or clover, whatever you want to put in there for a forage."