Alright, lack of resources, the majority of my academic reading comes from New Zealand yet there is still so much not covered, has led to some frustration.
When looking at a pasture based system being properly rotationally gazed with ruminants I see so much potential for more species diversity, higher feed values, improved animal health, drought tolerance & water retention, carbon sequestration, soil health and microbiological diversity; overall higher capture percentage of incoming energy which creates diversity and lowers the volatility of a system.
All of this can be achieved by incorporating fodder trees in the form of coppice, pollard, or mast/pod bearing.
Now this is a pasture with THE goal of raising animals, I'm not focused, in this conversation, on implementing a silvopasture for wood harvest but rather the previously mentioned beneficial potentials. With that said a silvopasture based system is not be overlooked when stacking functions on pasture.
Poplar and Willow are the most commonly utilized varies. In my experience mulberry has proven to be highly palatable for ruminants along with taking very well to the animals pruning and bark stripping, often responding with numerous shoots after a healthy resting period. This period of time I have yet to measure consistently.
More time/labor inputs but potentially higher DM yields. I am more interested in not creating more time investment to maintaining pasture which makes coppicing a more desirable method. Although, on areas of ungrazable land large pollard trees can serve as a great addition for feed values.
Mast/pod bearing trees-
Since this is a pasture light penetration is pivotal to understory growing success, where the majority of DM is derived. This rules out most, but not all, trees of mast bearing variety. Honey locusts are an amazing option in my opinion when placed in a pasture based setting due to their canopies which allow high amounts of light penetration(can't think of the term for that). Upon maturation, with a cultivar bred for pod production and nutrition, you are provided with copious amounts of late fall/winter forage( more practical for sheep as they can digest a higher percentage of the hard seeds). Shoots sprouting up from the mother trees are continuously grazed hence adding forage and never getting a foothold to harden it's spikes for protection. There are other great options but for my climate- zone 4- but honey locusts are of personal most interest. Fruit trees are another fabulous mast bearing option if properly protected.
So we put this all together-
A diverse understory with microclimates of partial shade allowing for further diversity along with a "Savannah"-esque planting of honey locusts with a larger number of poplar and willow coppice trees.
What are the draw backs to this?
More management meaning scaling becomes more difficult(50+ acres? 20 acres of this system is not that intensive to manage if done during animal rotations).
Need for permanent fencing infrastructure as electric netting is not practical in such a setting(from experience).
Potential for pasture degradation due to overshading if not properly managed.
If not equidistantly planted trees may hinder ability to drive machinery through as well as increasing the difficulty of removing coppiced non edible wood.
What are your thoughts? I didn't go into detail for each of the benefits mentioned in the beginning of the post as they are some what commonly known. If anybody has questions on those benefits be sure to ask for elaboration! If anyone sees other potential, or obvious, benefits be sure to share!
Surely we can find a pasture option that is widely applicable, perennial, practical and of immense benefit when compared to the traditional open meadow style of grazing. Yes, sheep are classified as grazers but I have observed mine head straight for the browse every chance they get.
I think trees are neccesary for the happiness of the animal. Shade, rubbing, scratching, rain/wind protection. The cedar trees that are collected and burned in my area are used by my cows to remove flies. Its like a broom on the whole side of their body. My sheep eat the cedar leaves as hi as they can reach.
That being said, i dont do anything structured for the animals in regards to trees. I do some selective cutting, like a cedar tree choking out an oak tree. Other trees(deciduous) im going to cut the lower branches that the sheep cant reach. Let them fall to the ground for the sheep. In the process i hope this will let some light in.
Just FYI there are thornless honey locust. I have a huge one, probably about 70 years old, maybe older with those huge thorns. Last year I bought a thornless one, it's still a sapling but has put out 2 ft of growth this year.
Also 2 years ago I got a couple truckloads of wood chips from the tree trimmers. I've used some in compost and some as mulch and have found some thornless trees sprouting up from it. I let them grow and if they are thornless I pot them up until I have a place ready to plant them into.
black locust is also a good species; saplings make good tool handles, wood is dense and rot resistant, often used for fence posts. Kind of a scrubby little thing while young. Not sure of nutrient content but think the leaves must be good, lots of cows eat them and they are nitrogen fixers. Small hooked thorns like roses, pretty white flower clusters in spring.
I also bought a red flowered locust from the nursery, thornless, similar to the black locust but with pretty red/pink flower clusters. My single tree only made a couple seed pods so this fall I'm going to try and root some cuttings.
Usual tree on range land here is mesquite or scrub oak. Scrub oak has very nasty acorns because they have so much tannin I don't know what eats them, maybe the packrats. Mesquite pods are tasty, can be made into flour, green pods eaten boiled. Pods are high in nutrition for livestock and people. You would have to grind them a bit for poultry I think.
Mesquite also fix nitrogen and provide light shade, allowing grass to grow under them.
Future plans include planting figs, olives and pomegranates on the bottoms of the slopes where they will get the most water. Once I have the native grasses back on these degraded hillsides, to graze some goats and sheep, followed by poultry. The poultry could also be turned in under the fruit trees to clean up rotty fruit and insects. Glad for the mention of the mulberry as good fodder, grows well here if irrigated. Easily grown from cuttings.
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