Northeast Pasture Research and Extension Consortium Annual Meeting, Latham, NY, January 25-25, 2012

The fifth technical session was held on the morning of January 26. This session was about silvopasture opportunities in the Northeast.

Mr. Brett Chedzoy from Cornell Cooperative Extension and Dr. Jim Neel from ARS at Beaver, WV (closing ARS research unit due to ARS budget cuts) spoke about thinning out hardwood forest stands so that enough light reached the soil surface to grow grass. Orchardgrass does very well in hardwood silvopasture being a shade tolerant grass (hence its name). Brett said that it is much easier to introduce grass into a thinned forest stand than it is to introduce trees into a pasture (loss of or severe damage to seedlings and saplings by livestock). New biomass and fuel wood markets have created a commercial outlet for the low quality wood harvested from the thinning operation. There are also some new clearing machinery, such as the Pecon brush eater, to make it easier to prepare the silvopasture site for grass seedings.

The Beaver, WV ARS research unit had worked on silvopasture for 12 years. Dr. Jim Neel said it improves summertime grass growth. However, silvopasture under hardwoods produces only 60 percent of the grass growth of open pasture, but the grass is of higher quality. The shade offered by the trees decreases the amount of time animals linger at waterers. Tree diameter at breast height (DBH) should range from about 50 to 65 feet/acre to help ensure grass stand longevity and maximize productivity. Adequate light penetration is a must to avoid grasses that are too high in protein and too low in energy. This results in decreased livestock intake and performance, and possibly animal loss due to nitrate poisoning (high nitrates). When adequate light penetrates the tree canopy, animal performance in a silvopasture is similar to open pasture, with lambs achieving 0.20 lb ADG under the ARS management scheme. Water quality im-proved under silvopasture with reduced nitrate in soil leachate, increased movement of fecal organisms into the soil that reduced runoff contamination, and dissolved organic matter more readily leached to the soil/bedrock interface rather than leaving via runoff water.

The last presenter was Dr. Rachel Gilker for Mr. Matt Burke, owner of Bloomfield Farm. Matt is planting hedgerows around his pastures to create barriers to keep livestock in, predators out, and to reduce wind exposure. They can also provide browse. Hawthorne is a very good hedge species. Other good species are rugosa and swamp rose, black locust, and seaberry. All hedge species need protection until they have established and matured to hedge height.

To finish off this session with a counterpoint solution to silvopasture, Rachel gave a presentation on “Reclaiming Forest Land for Pasture” authored by Mr. George van Vlaanderen, owner of Does’ Leap Farm near Bakersfield, VT. George uses goats and hogs to eat brush and root up existing vegetation roots. The farm produces goat cheese and kefir. They have work horses to do the farm work and move logs from areas being cleared of trees. Marginal forestland is converted to pasture to expand his livestock operation. For acreage larger than 10 acres, it is best to have a logger clear the land with a feller-buncher and grapple skidder. A chipper can clean up branches and brushy material and the chips sold to a biomass buyer, such as Burlington Electric.

Once cleared of trees and slash, keys to converting former forestland to pasture are addition of organic matter, animal impact by rooting and treading, frost seeding, fertilization, and multi-species grazing of the established seeding. Over-wintering animals on the cleared ground and feeding them hay at high density stocking rate incorporates organic matter into the forest soil. Multi-species grazing does these specific things: Small ruminants control stump sprouts and forbs, second class grass eaters such as horses or heifers graze the pasture forages, and pigs control ferns and other undesirables by rooting them up to eat them.