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Silvopasture

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  • btswass
    started a topic Silvopasture

    Silvopasture

    We’re looking at buying 27 wooded acres to build our new house and barn. My husband is interested in having (doing?) silvopasture for the horses. We currently have one horse and a donkey and will build with room to add two more horses at most.

    Has anyone successfully converted woods into either regular pasture or silvopasture? Any horror stories I need to know about? I’ll take all the advice and wisdom I can get. Thanks!

  • wildlifer
    replied
    I want to live in a magical place where ticks are only in the woods, lol! Here they are everywhere, no matter how short I keep the grass.

    Trees & woods in pastures are very common here. I have a few, neighbors have a bunch, no particular issues. It definitely depends on soils & trees. I pick up big branches but leave smaller sticks if it's small enough to break when a horse steps on it. Even my insanely accident prone Tb didn't hurt himself on those.

    ​​​​​Sounds like you found a great option, enjoy!

    Leave a comment:


  • suz
    replied
    I had horses, goats, pigs and fowl on 40 acres of steep and thickly wooded mountain side for years. Luckily there were no plants which were problematic for my livestock, and I was careful about how many animals were on the land. Hay was scattered (all year long) along the road leading up to the top, so no one stood in one place eating all day long. The old timers stuck to the level areas, while the youngsters and goats climbed and explored the slopes for tasty plants. All in all, aside from the cost of hay all year, I was very pleased with my system. Hens ate the seeds and bugs out of manure, pigs rooted up stumps i wanted to clear (spread some corn under them and they went nuts digging under and around them, making it easy to pull out w tractor),the ground was well fertilised and the forest was thriving when we sold.

    Leave a comment:


  • HPFarmette
    replied
    Originally posted by Guilherme View Post

    This is so very dependent upon the specific piece of ground (location, terrain, soil, etc.).

    Bluey's advice is the best so far.

    G.
    That is often the case.

    Leave a comment:


  • candyappy
    replied
    Our first ever property was 7 wooded acres. I fed hay year round and left the woods alone. Horses loved going into the woods and had trails all over the place and no health issues or tree loss for us.

    The one thing I will agree with you on is that is the only time I have ever had more than an occasional tick on my horses so personally I would rather not keep them in wooded areas again.

    Clearing a large wooded area is going to take you a long, long time and it is backbreaking work. I would find someone to do it who will save your topsoil.

    Leave a comment:


  • btswass
    replied
    Originally posted by B and B View Post
    I am glad for you! Especially, having spent the day assessing the game plan on rehabbing 50 plus acres of ugly second growth forest, complete with acre upon acre of tick infested barberry, and I'm not even trying to get horse pasture back out of it!
    The ticks were a big reason for avoiding woods too. We walked our new lot this weekend that has just a bit of woods around the edge and one corner and I pulled 3 of them off me after! My husband already has Lyme disease and I didn’t want to deal with getting it or the horses

    Leave a comment:


  • B and B
    replied
    I am glad for you! Especially, having spent the day assessing the game plan on rehabbing 50 plus acres of ugly second growth forest, complete with acre upon acre of tick infested barberry, and I'm not even trying to get horse pasture back out of it!

    Leave a comment:


  • Bluey
    replied
    Originally posted by btswass View Post
    So we decided we were getting in over our heads with a fully wooded lot. Found a smaller lot with 9 acres already cleared and maintained that just happens to be next door to a barn with 400 acres of trails. Win-win!
    That sounds great for you, congratulations!

    Leave a comment:


  • btswass
    replied
    So we decided we were getting in over our heads with a fully wooded lot. Found a smaller lot with 9 acres already cleared and maintained that just happens to be next door to a barn with 400 acres of trails. Win-win!

    Leave a comment:


  • Mango20
    replied
    I have a lot of trees in my pasture. I really wish I didn't, but when we first got the lot, money was tight so we just cleared out the smaller ones ourselves. They are a pain in the ass to mow around, especially with the hill many are on. The horses have killed several over the years. The favorite here is tulip poplar. A lot of the big ones we didn't thin are potentially dangerous black walnut trees. There are a few old apple trees that make a mess each fall. The grass doesn't grow very well beneath the trees. If you have the money, just clear a couple of acres to be your main pasture, maybe leave a couple of patches of fenced off trees, then fence some of the forested area for more turnout space without worrying about how much grass will grow there.

    Leave a comment:


  • Guilherme
    replied
    Originally posted by GraceLikeRain View Post
    What about a blended approach? Clear 2-3 acres leaving a handful of shade producing trees that are fenced off to protect the roots. Over time, thin the surrounding perimeter and clear out underbrush. You can then extend fencing to encompass a few more acres. Typically, horses want to stick to the areas where they can graze but many do like the option of seeking wooded areas during the heat of the day or rain.

    I looked into silvopasture when we considered land but the cost of trying to selectively clear 10+ acres, seed, fight the inevitable saplings, etc. was much more expensive and daunting than clear cutting and seeding a few acres.
    This is so very dependent upon the specific piece of ground (location, terrain, soil, etc.).

    Bluey's advice is the best so far.

    G.

    Leave a comment:


  • Bluey
    replied
    The trouble with grazing or any other use around trees is that for most trees to be healthy, they need a mostly undisturbed area about the size of their canopy drip.

    If you have any animals or humans trampling and packing that ground, trees will suffer just by anything standing on that ground.
    Best way to manage trees is to flash graze under them a few times a year and mostly leave the area undisturbed and the dirt there "fluffy", not compacted.
    In most pastures, if you have some trees you don't want killed, you fence them.

    The more slope to the land, the more you may want to protect trees, as they help hold erosion at bay, especially in the sandy soil of draws.

    All this will also be dependent on the region, moisture or lack of it and so much more.
    One good place to start is the local USDA Farm Service Agency, where the Soil Conservation/Natural Resources Service is located, that can help with any questions.

    Leave a comment:


  • GraceLikeRain
    replied
    What about a blended approach? Clear 2-3 acres leaving a handful of shade producing trees that are fenced off to protect the roots. Over time, thin the surrounding perimeter and clear out underbrush. You can then extend fencing to encompass a few more acres. Typically, horses want to stick to the areas where they can graze but many do like the option of seeking wooded areas during the heat of the day or rain.

    I looked into silvopasture when we considered land but the cost of trying to selectively clear 10+ acres, seed, fight the inevitable saplings, etc. was much more expensive and daunting than clear cutting and seeding a few acres.

    Leave a comment:


  • NoSuchPerson
    replied
    Originally posted by btswass View Post
    All I mean by silvopasture is that we wouldn’t remove all the trees when we clear the land for pastures leaving the larger trees and only clearing out the smaller ones. I think its going to be too expensive to hire a company to completely clear the land. Plus then you loose all the top soil
    Big trees make the best shade and my equines preferred them for summer lounging and napping compared to shade offered by sheds. At my last place, I had several big live oak trees in two of my 4 small pastures and they were truly an oasis during the summer.

    However, I had to fence the trees off to keep the problem child from chewing the bark. Not all of the horses and mules will bother trees, but it seems like there's always at least one that thinks he's a beaver.

    In my experience, they won't bother pines that much, will casually chew bigger, rough barked trees, and will absolutely strip the bark off and destroy trees with thinner, smoother bark.

    Also, as BeeHoney said, cleaning up downed branches and debris is a never ending and tiresome chore. For me, dealing with the debris and fencing off the trees was worth the benefit of cool, shady resting spots.

    Leave a comment:


  • BeeHoney
    replied
    You can turn your horse out in a wooded pasture but there are a lot of issues. First of all, there are some species of trees that are poisonous to horses. Even acorns can cause colic if the horse chooses to eat them. Secondly, the horses will chew on the bark and kill the trees, leaving you with a lot of dead/dying trees to deal with. Thirdly, horses can and will cut themselves to pieces on downed limbs. You will have your work cut out for you clearing up branches and debris all the time, or dealing with cuts and puncture wounds.

    In sum, while it can be done, I would not recommend buying a wooded lot if your intent is to keep horses. If you do so, I would recommend clearing a smaller portion of it and using that portion to pasture your horse. Previously wooded areas do not typically have soil that grows great grass, so I would not expect this type of land to produce a significant amount of grass.

    Leave a comment:


  • Guilherme
    replied
    Horses are creatures of the open steppe. They don't particularly care for dark, close places where they cannot see or hear approaching predators. On really warm days ours will go into the tree copse in their pasture but don't stay there for long. Soon they are back out in the open Sun even if it's really hot. In the cold months they virtually never spend much time in the trees, although they will sometime cluster on the downwind side where the wind is less.

    G.

    Leave a comment:


  • avjudge
    replied
    There's a point when many trees' bark turns from smooth to rough and woody. My horses have always spent their winters in a wooded lot, mostly sugar maple and hemlock. They will munch on some (but not all) of the smooth-barked young maples, but I've never had problems with them harming the rough-barked big old maples, or any hemlock.

    In the early part of the winter when they were still in their summer pasture, our previous horses would preferentially seek out & strip the bark from all the ash trees, but not touch any other species (mostly poplar there).

    So overall I haven't observed my horses being nearly as hard on trees as people here would expect them to be. But I have tons of trees and really would be happy if they'd kill a few more of them!

    Leave a comment:


  • IronwoodFarm
    replied
    Second the comment on horses eating tree bark. The horses can have lots of free choice hay; they will still eat the tree bark. I have lost a number of trees to them. Once the bark is gone, the insects and disease do the rest.

    Leave a comment:


  • B and B
    replied
    I'd look up the cost of clearing that land, there are some good discussions about converting woodland to horse pasture on this forum. You also won't loose the topsoil (at least not in New England), but what grows back isn't grass for horses. And getting grass is going to cost a lot of money whether one tree or many is cut.

    Silvopasture is a technical term for a type of agriculture. Its style and success depend on where you are and how you manage it. What works in the long leaf pine plantations with cattle down south, doesn't work in a mixed hardwood area up north. And in that mixed hardwood, your success is going to vary depending on whether it is red maple on wet soils or oak on upland soils. And so forth... It trades off high level grass production for increased shade/shelter plus timber production. And quality timber production is one of its products if it is truly silvopasture. Your stocking rates are a lot lower per acre. And your rotation is faster because partially shaded grass grows more slowly and root damage through soil compaction must, must be avoided. A group on animals sheltering on packed, bare dirt below a tree with exposed roots is not silvopasture.

    Generally, horses and trees don't seem to get on awfully well. Horses tend to eat the tree bark, which if it doesn't kill the tree makes it useless for anything other than firewood, and the trees are frequently toxic to horses. I've actually never seen true silvopasture using horses. That being said, it probably can be done. It just isn't easy!
    Being inclined for the easy route and also the ecologically kindest route I would look into creating genuine cleared fields, two acres or more in size each, with hedgerows and shelter belts in the wet areas as opposed to true silvopasture. I'd also hire a forester and talk to the NRCS.
    Last edited by B and B; Jan. 7, 2020, 08:10 PM. Reason: Because it is late and I can't think

    Leave a comment:


  • btswass
    replied
    All I mean by silvopasture is that we wouldn’t remove all the trees when we clear the land for pastures leaving the larger trees and only clearing out the smaller ones. I think its going to be too expensive to hire a company to completely clear the land. Plus then you loose all the top soil

    Leave a comment:

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