Finding Forage in the Woods

8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Helen Margaret Griffiths New York Correspondent

NY Beef Producer Provides Insight Into Silvopasture

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — A pasture walk funded in part by New York Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative was held at Chedzoy’s Angus Glen Farm in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on Aug. 1.

The event on silvopasturing covered many aspects of this management system and attracted attendees from New York and Pennsylvania.

Angus Glen Farm is a 260-acre family farm owned by Brett Chedzoy and his family, which prior to the family’s acquisition of the property in the mid-1980s, had been a dairy farm. The farm, which is similar to many in the region, has a combination of open pasture and wooded areas. The Chedzoys manage around 85 acres as silvopasture, which is a relatively new management method for the Northeast, but for some farms, if utilized properly, can make them more financially solvent.

In the latter part of the 20th century, woodlot grazing was discouraged in the Northeast as foresters educated farmers about significant tree damage caused by livestock.

During a walk through the woods, Brett Chedzoy, who is a forester, demonstrated how silvopasturing differs from woodlot grazing and emphasized the significant management required for the system to work.

Trees need to be thinned appropriately to not only allow forage growth, but also provide protection for the animals as they can benefit from the extra shade.

Chedzoy said cattle prefer natural shade over artificial shade and when shade is evenly distributed, it reduces overuse of a single site.

Grazing intensity and duration need to be carefully managed, and secure fencing also needs to be in place.

“This isn’t a management system for an impatient person,” said Chedzoy, adding that it can take a number of years to strike the correct balance between timber, forage and grazing cattle. While he’s in favor of multiple animal species on the farm, he currently has only Angus cattle as he and his wife hold full-time jobs off the farm.

The tree canopy needs to be open to allow for good forage growth in a silvopasture system, he said, and that means thinning every three to five years.

Along with that, Chedzoy said producers may have to spend some time clearing honeysuckle, multiflora rose and buckthorn bushes as too many of these plants are not good for cattle. Cattle can usually keep brush down after this initial “clearing.” This was apparent when walking through the black locust and walnut woods, where the cattle were grazing.

After the trees are thinned and the undesirable undergrowth is removed, Chedzoy said cattle can be used to disturb the soil to encourage the growth of grass and clover. His woodlot is divided into paddocks, similar to pasture and of a size that would provide good trampling for the number of animals in the herd. Good quality forage is critical, he said, and when asked about supplemental seeding, he said, “it is a little hit and miss. The seed is very expensive and in addition, there are currently very few shade-tolerant forage grasses.”

There is some research underway to develop cool-season grasses at the USDA Plant Materials Center in Big Flats, N.Y. So there may be more varieties in the future, but whether seeding will be cost-effective is still unclear.

Attendees were also anxious to hear about the risk of letting animals eat plants that are toxic. Chedzoy said that in the 10 years he and his family have been practicing silvopasturing, they’ve never known of any toxicity issues. He recommended people read the work of Kathy Voth, who runs a website, Livestock for Landscape, and is an expert on livestock and grazing.

During the eight months of the year — May to December — when cattle are pastured in the woods, they are moved nightly into a new paddock, which provides sufficient rest and recovery time for the forage. These short periods of intensive grazing are also important to avoid damaging behavior, which can result in tree damage.

Grazing is year-round at Angus Glen Farm, but in the winter months the cattle are fed round hay bales the family buys from a neighbor, providing plenty of good feed and bedding during the cold months. The cattle are moved every two days through the paddocks and if extreme weather is forecast, they are moved into the sheltered wooded areas.

While silvopasturing is in its infancy in North America, Chedzoy suggests anyone considering it start small as recovery from mistakes with this management method takes significantly longer than with standard pasture management.

Courses on silvopasturing are starting to be offered and even though Chedzoy said “the textbook has yet to be written,” there is an online forum,, which can be helpful to the newcomer as well as the seasoned silvopasture manager.

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