Year-Round Grazing Paradise (or at least moving towards that)

Don’t you sometimes wish it was spring year-round? As I write this, snow is coming down towards the tail-end of February, and it feels like forever ago since I saw green grass or a tree in leaf. The long winter almost makes you forget what it’s like to just sweat during the summer. Then again, by August you’ve plum forgotten what it’s like to be cold. There’s good reason to love the changing season. The rollercoaster ride that is forage production is not one of those reasons. The summer slump and a long winter without forage growth both require a lot of creativity and expense in order to keep livestock fed. My goal, as someone who is not a grazier, but rather a tree-person learning as much about grazing as possible, is to determine how and where trees can best compliment a grazing operation. What emerges is a picture of how the right trees, used strategically, can reduce the extremes of hot and cold, feast and famine, resulting in more moderate conditions throughout the year, and more feed during the summer and winter. What follows is how trees can fit into a pasture-based operation focusing on ruminants, broken down by season. Can we get to a curve that looks like this? Less severe

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2 thoughts on “Year-Round Grazing Paradise (or at least moving towards that)

  1. Hi Tom,

    Good question. One principle is to space trees as evenly as practical. A single tree in a pasture will of course invite all animals to lounge underneath all day, leading to nutrient concentrations and eventually, a dead tree. So spreading trees out evenly, and hence the shade cast by those trees, will go a long ways.

    Second, plant more than just a handful. I wouldn’t go lower than 10 trees per acre, and 30-100 is probably better. The more you can provide distributed shade, the better. Some of the trees you plant will be there for 200 years, and some fast growers you may plant with the intention of thinning them out in 10 years once other trees start to fill in.

    A final practice is to choose tall-growing trees and prune off lower branches, thus raising the height of the canopy. A common and unfortunate sight near me is big, wide maple trees that branch just above where cattle can reach the leaves. With those trees, the shade stays right underneath the tree all day long, and hence the cattle do too. What you want instead is a tree that doesn’t branch for the first 12-20′ or higher, so that the shade moves significantly throughout the course of the day. That’ll keep your livestock on the move as they follow the path of the shade.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Love the information you are providing Austin. It is good to expand my thinking. Could you comment on how to prevent nutrient transfer from open pasture to shaded areas? I am very cognizant of this phenomenon and therefore fence trees and open pasture separately.

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