Posted 25 April 2012. Forage and Grazinglands.
Source: Cornell University Press Release. cals.cornell.edu
Ithaca, New York (April 9, 2012)--They may seem unlikely additions to a forest ecosystem, but cows, sheep and other livestock could prove to be valuable tools for New York woodland management, according to Cornell experts.
Cornell Cooperative Extension agriculture educator Brett Chedzoy and his colleagues in the Cornell Forestry Program are advocating for the return of silvopasturing, or managed grazing in woodlands.
With pasture land at a premium, they are hoping the practice will appeal to farmers, who could also benefit from increased feed options and better shade protection for their animals.
The ability to use a part of their land long off limits to their animals may also mean a new way for farmers to pay the land's taxes. To give farmers a greater incentive to convert forested acreage into silvopasture, the New York State Senate recently voted to amend the state’s agricultural assessment program to include silvopasturing.
Silvopasturing also has benefits for woodland managers, as the livestock can help clear the underbrush and create a more productive stand of timber, Chedzoy said.
“We're being forced into a situation where we have to look at how we utilize our limited agricultural land area,” he said. “Silvopasturing fits our landscape in the Northeast, where most pastureland is juxtaposed with forest. In the past we did a good job of telling people to keep animals out of the woods, but rules change.”
One Ithaca area farmer, Steve Gabriel of Work With Nature Design and an extension aide in Cornell’s Department of Horticulture, is already experimenting with the practice in a novel way. With the support of a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program, he is pasturing ducks in a mature sugar maple woodlot, which has the added benefit of providing pest control for another of his agroforestry projects, a shiitake mushroom farm.
"Ducks are currently undervalued as a wonderful animal that had potential to both control pests and provide marketable eggs and meat,” Gabriel said. “Integrating them into agroforestry practices would likely get more farmers interested in considering producing niche crops like mushrooms, which take them out of the farm field and allow them to see value in the forest."
Joined by state extension forester Peter Smallidge, Ontario County agriculture program leader Jim Ochterski, and extension dairy specialist Nancy Glazier, Chedzoy is working to show other farmers how silvopasturing can be done safely and in an environmentally-friendly way.
Both trees and livestock must be managed properly to keep the other crop healthy, Chedzoy said. Livestock should be rotated often to avoid damage to trees, for example, and the forest canopy must be kept thinned to allow sunlight to penetrate to allow the growth of grasses.
His team has compiled a silvopasturing guide and website with online forums, led more than two dozen talks across the Northeast, and held a regional conference in Watkins Glen.
“What we're trying to teach people is that it's okay to use intensive livestock grazing to productively use woodland areas. It's a restoration tool to restore healthy successional dynamics to an ecosystem,” Chedzoy said. “Most farmers don't see their woods as an integral part of the farm operation, but it's very popular in other regions.”