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At the Great Lakes Forage & Grazing Conference on March 7, 2018 in St. Johns, MI, an enthusiastic crowd listened to Brett Chedsvoy, a Cornell University Extension Educator, forester, and cattle grazier speak on the practice of Silvopasture. Silvopasture is an advanced managed version of the age old practice of grazing livestock in woodlot settings. Because of the great potential and interest in Michigan the MSU Extension team of Kable Thurlow, MSU E Beef Educator; Julie Crick, MSUE Natural Resource Educator, Monica Jean, MSUE Field Crop Educator; and myself Jerry Lindquist, MSUE Grazing Educator, with others, plan to bring more education on Silvopasture to landowners in Michigan.
Many Michigan farms already graze some woodlands and brushy areas as a part of their summer grazing routine.
What the Cornell University foresters and livestock grazing staff have been doing over the last ten plus years is applying more research and science to the practice to improve resource productivity, profitability and the environmental integrity of the practice and thus have raised it to the level of Silvopasturing.
Below is a brief introduction to their thoughts:
Silvopasture is the combined production of trees, livestock and pasturage on the same land. Woodlands can be thinned and forages established on wooded land, or trees can be planted onto an open pasture area to achieve silvopasturing. Silvopasturing is not simply turning the cows into the woods and letting them lounge and graze where ever and whenever they want.
Silvopasturing produces two revenue streams: annual revenue from livestock and periodic revenue from trees. The landowner (farmers and woodland owners) must balance complementary and competing needs of three crops: animals, trees and forage. Though it may be surprising to livestock farmers, academic research shows that timber sales drives the financial returns from silvopasture: livestock sales generate annual cash flow while waiting for higher quality trees to mature.
Silvopasture is more management intensive than monoculture farming or timber production. Yet it can repay the additional effort and cost by expanding under-utilized areas of a farm or woodland and optimizing productivity and financial returns from land.
Silvopasture yields many environmental and economic benefits:
• enhancing resilience to climate change while increasing carbon sequestration
• improving water quality by reducing farm run-off and water holding capacity compared to open pasture lands
• improving soil health compared to open pastures
• preserving forested landscape, wildlife habitat and biological diversity
• creating jobs and thus advancing rural social and economic development
• increasing production of local pasture-based meats
Because of its cost, time and complexity a landowner is well-advised to start with a Silvopasture Management Plan as a framework within which to operate in the larger farm or woodland enterprise. To develop such a plan the landowner is advised to work with a team of forestry and livestock professionals that have training and experience in silvopasture management.
The completed plan will assist landowners to:
• Carefully select forage, trees and livestock which can co-exist compatibly
• Maintain appropriate stocking levels of both timber and livestock
• Use forage which is nutritious for the livestock
• Raise livestock they enjoy and/or have good short-term economic value
• Favor tree species with higher long-term value
• Use adaptive management based on monitoring and evaluation of the system
• Carefully evaluate the expenses required and estimate the potential income returns before starting down the silvopasture path.
Watch for our MSU Extension Team to provide more training and field events on silvopasturing in the upcoming years. And on that note if you feel you already have good examples of silvopasturing methods on your farm feel free to contact any of us as we will be needing good examples to showcase. To learn more about Cornell University’s research and recommendations on silvopasturing go to their website at http://blogs.cornell.edu/ccednrpublications/agroforestry-silvopasture/ and if you have the internet capabilities to view videos here is Brett Chedzoy’s presentation at the Great Lakes Forage & Grazing Conference http://silvopasture.ning.com/forum/topics/silvopasture-program-in-michigan. Stay tuned for upcoming events!

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