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The concept of silvopasture challenges our notions of both modern agriculture and land use. For centuries, European colonizer-settlers of North America have engaged in practices that separate the field from the forest, and isolate grazing animals from their natural sources of food. In contrast, silvopasture systems integrate trees, animals, and forages in a whole-system approach that creates a number of benefits for livestock, farmers, and the environment.
In this book, ecologist and forest farmer Steve Gabriel (Farming the Woods) explores the philosophy and techniques behind silvopasture. This system not only holds the key to restoring overgrown or neglected land, but also provides an economical livelihood and even the ability to farm extensively while buffering some of the effects of a changing climate: increased rainfall, longer droughts, and more intense storm events.
Silvopasture involves far more than just allowing animals into the woodlot. It is an intentional process, steeped in careful observation and flexible to the dynamics of the complex ecology in which it exists. It requires a farmer who understands grassland ecology, forestry, and animal husbandry. The farmer doesn’t need to be an expert in all of these disciplines, but familiar enough with them to make decisions on a wide variety of scales. A silvopasture system will inevitably look different from year to year, and careful design coupled with creativity and visioning for the future are all part of the equation.
Examples of the diverse options Silvopasture systems offer include:
- A black locust plantation for fence posts coupled with summer grazing pastures for cattle in central New York
- Oxen and pigs used to clear forested land in New Hampshire to create space for new market gardens and orchards
- Turkeys used for controlling pests and fertilization on a cider orchard and asparagus farm in New York
- Sheep that graze the understory of hybrid chestnut and hickory trees at a nut nursery in Minnesota
All of these examples share common goals, components, and philosophies. The systems may take several years to establish, but the long-term benefits include healthier animals and soils, greater yields, and the capacity to sequester atmospheric carbon better than forests or grasslands alone.
For all these reasons and more, Silvopasture offers farmers an innovative and ecological alternative to conventional grazing practice.