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Take Your Grazing Up a Level By Adding Trees to Your Pastures

By   /  July 20, 2020  /  6 Comments

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Austin Unruh founded Crow & Berry Land Management. He says, “We believe in the power of go
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About the author

Austin started Crow & Berry Land Management (CrowAndBerry.com) in 2017 with the goal of helping landowners do conservation that was also profitable. He started with streamside buffers in southeastern Pennsylvania, and when a client asked how to plant trees in his pastures, Austin started down a rabbit hole that just keeps getting longer and longer. TreesForGraziers.com and his current work in silvopasture is the outworking of that journey. When not planting trees he's probably reading about trees, though he's learned to avoid good tree books right before bed, or he'll lay awake half the night thinking. If not reading about trees, a good afternoon is swimming in the pond and eating wild berries with his growing family.

6 Comments

  1. emily macdonald says:

    Your advice seems very practical to me. It is encouraging to know that a silvopasture practice does not necessarily need to emphasize commercial tree product production.
    I don’t think that approach pencils out for small farms and harvesting fruit and nuts where animals graze could be difficult to manage because of food safety laws.
    Planting trees to strengthen a livestock operation makes sense for the reasons you mention. Is there any practical way to place a monetary value on the shade, sheter, forage, nitrogen, flood mitigation, and beauty trees provide to a livestock grazing system?

    • Austin Unruh says:

      Hi Emily,

      That’s a really good question. I’d say some of that research has been done, but it’s going to vary so much depending on the setting (especially the value of flood mitigation, water quality, beauty, etc).

      The best study I’ve seen in this space looked at the economic returns of honeylocust in a silvopasture setting. In the article they estimate that the returns on the investment in trees would be between 9% and 24%. Even 9% is a great return on investment, and 24% is super high. And that only factored in the feed value of the pods, saying nothing about heat stress reduction or windbreak or nitrogen fixation.

      One of these days I’ll get around to breaking down the numbers for the other factors as well.

      Here’s that article about the return on investment for honeylocust: https://pubs.cif-ifc.org/doi/pdfplus/10.5558/tfc67232-3

  2. Cindy Schnaithmann says:

    Great timing for this series! I have 30 acres of hillside pasture I’d like to sprinkle with some more trees.

  3. Luke says:

    Water represents the most limiting factor in grass growth almost always and it’s a zero-sum deal. Whatever water trees use becomes unavailable for grass or other uses.

    • Austin Unruh says:

      Hey Luke,

      You’re absolutely right that water is a huge limiting factor, in some areas more than others.

      There are a lot of things going on when trees and pasture interact. Like you noted, there’s the belowground competition for water. There’s also shading from the trees, which will reduce heat stress and transpiration for forages. There’s the effect called hydraulic lift, where deep-rooted trees can pull water from deep soil horizons and make it available at shallower levels where neighboring plants can take advantage of it. And integrating trees into a well-managed system should boost soil biology and organic matter, thus boosting water holding potential.

      How things balance out will depend on your site and climatic conditions, and to a large extend on which trees are selected.

      Below is a link to a 2019 overview of silvopasture, including forage production and livestock performance. It’s the most complete scientific overview of silvopasture research I’ve found:

      https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10457-019-00366-8.pdf

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