Grazing Your Cows on Wooded Pasture


grazing cows

Silvopasture is a newfangled word for wooded pasture. Basically, all it means is that you are using wooded land with trees and forage for pasture. The trees can be managed for firewood production and/or saw logs and, at the same time, provide welcome shade and shelter for your livestock and forage.

Traditional dairy farmers in the northeast have grazed woodlands, including sugar bushes, for generations. It used to be called "making milk from the woods." After World War Two when farmers were being urged to get big or get out, silvopasture was considered an obsolete management practice by the "experts" including foresters who didn't want to see cows or other grazing livestock in a managed wood lot and routinely recommended against the practice. Cow nutritionists urged farmers to keep their cows out of the woods and out on the fields grazing. They used to tell me that cows can handle heat and don't need shade. This, of course, is wrong and reflects a lack of basic common sense. As a child, I lived next to a dairy farm that had been grazing its 40-cow Jersey herd in the woods for generations. What a joy it was to walk through those woods with my dog. The forest floor was open and patched with grass. The trees were healthy and you could see deep into the distance, without a brush understory to obscure the view. It felt like virgin forest.

Managing Silvopasture Micro-Dairies

Here are some of my best tips for managing silvopasture on a micro dairy.

Don’t overstock the pasture. If you chronically overstock silvopasture with animals, you risk injuring the roots and bark of the trees. This isn't so bad if your goal is to open the pasture up and thin the trees. But, if your goal is to maintain the health of the trees you are saving, as you would want to do if it were a sugar bush, then it is best to limit the number of animals you graze there or "under-stock".cow

Watch out for mud. Avoid hillside grazing wooded pastures when the ground is muddy, especially in the spring and fall. The cows’ hooves can damage the tree roots and cause erosion.

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