Grazing in the Woods

Slowly over the last two years we’ve worked on fencing in the woods and then managing it as a silvopasture (meaning wooded pasture).  Lots of good background info on the silvopasturing concept can be found by reading some of Brett Chedzoy’s work here.

I’m convinced of the merits of managing cattle and goats in woods, so long as they are actually managed and not just allowed to roam freely for months.  What looks to the casual observer like natural forested areas in our region are often pretty biologically skewed forests, as most of our woodlands have suffered from invasive plants and insects and from too much “best first” logging taking the best trees and leaving the poor ones behind.  Managed grazing combined with some judicious thinning have the ability to increase biological activity in the canopy, on the ground, and in the soil.  We know we can increase carbon capture, nitrogen fixation, and oxygen generation all while growing beef and allowing us to harvest timber.

So while I stated that I’m sold on the idea, progress is slow.  This is one of those projects that can be done with money or it can be done with sweat.  It costs a fortune to hire a good logger who can do the kind of careful logging I require.  Most loggers have a financial incentive to maximize their profits on the wood they remove, not an incentive to leave the most value in the woods.  To hire a conservation forrester like that requires an investment of thousands of dollars per acre.  So I’m just chipping away as I get the time (which means not very often).  It is satisfying to see what we can accomplish with a small tractor and chainsaw, and of course, with a lot of help from the cattle.

Silvopasture 2017
Here is one area last September.  Trees are rather sparse because this was an ash forest until the emerald ash borer started killing all the trees in 2010.  I trimmed a few scraggly trees and pushed the honeysuckle and buckthorns into brush piles.  The cattle ate the leaves off the branches as I cut them down.  Waste not, want not.
SIlvopasture 2018
The same area this week, 13 months later.  I fed bales of hay in this area last year so the ground got lots of tramping, manure, and seeds from the hay.
Silvopasture Clover
This is what the ground looks like in places where the cattle were eating the hay bales.  Clover everywhere!  Other areas are a bit brushy, but I think the cattle can keep the brush regrowth under control.

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