Turning a New Leaf in Pasture Management

9/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

HONEY BROOK, Pa. — Grazing sure seems to make a lot of sense, said Bill Trusty — a beef cattle farmer in Brecknock Township, Berks County — while he walked through a thick pasture just beyond a patch of woods.

“It’s so much easier for the cow to do the work,” he said. “They get their own food, mow the pasture and take their manure outside.”

Recently, Trusty went on a pasture walk at Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook, Chester County, to learn about the expansion of grazing to include trees.

The practice, called silvopasture, is relatively new in Pennsylvania and combines field with forestry management methods.

The event, held by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, studied the benefits of mob grazing and silvopasture.

Dean Carlson, owner of Wyebrook Farm, was the host for the walk, which included roughly 40 area farmers.

Carlson, who spent 15 years in the finance business, bought the 355-acre farm, which had been scheduled for housing developments, from foreclosure about two years ago. Pastures cover roughly 220 of the acres.

Wyebrook sells its pasture-raised fresh meats on the weekends.

“Some of the fields were in hay,” Carlson said, adding that he reseeded some of the pastures in fall, 2010. “The rest were in ... weed when I got here.”

In addition to grass-fed beef cattle, Carlson raises sheep, chickens and pigs that graze the farm where he installed several watering systems including one that uses a solar pump.

“We have water in every pasture,” he said.

Carlson said he learned how to use fruit and nut trees as “another cash crop” from the book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” by J. Russell Smith.

“It seemed like a no-brainer to me,” Carlson said. “It was free food for the pigs ... cut down on the food bill.”

He also planted persimmon, mulberry and honey locust trees on the farm.

“We basically graze as long as we can and buy hay as we need it,” Carlson said.

The biggest problem with silvopasture is regeneration, Carlson said. Young trees might need to be fenced off to prevent livestock from eating them.

Additionally, pigs will root and clear the ground.

“Rotational grazing is key,” he said, describing how he moves the livestock to give fields time to grow.

Dan Ludwig, NRCS grazing specialist, said silvopasture can benefit livestock and forest management.

Tracey Coulter, forest program specialist for DCNR’s rural and community forestry section, said Wyebrook’s program is unique in the northeastern U.S.

In addition to producing food, trees on the farm provide shade for the animals, she said.

“This is the first time I’ve actually seen (a farmer) intentionally plant trees (in open pastures),” she said.

To learn more about grazing assistance through NRCS, contact Ludwig at 717-274-2597 or dan.ludwig<\@>pa.usda.gov.

To learn more about Wyebrook Farm, visit http://wyebrookfarm.com/about-us/.

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