Silvopasture

They grow a lot of apples in Normandy and Brittany, probably because cider is such a popular beverage. When we were on vacation there 10 years ago, I noticed that their apple trees were in cattle pastures.  It makes good sense of course.  The cows keep the area grazed and fertilized.  The trees shade the cows and the cows eat the fruit that’s allowed to fall.  The Bretons and Normans probably get better apples and better beef this way.

Silvopasture is the practice of integrating animal pastures and tree crops.  It makes good sense.  Allowing livestock to come in and clean up under fruit trees, as they do in France, is one way of doing it, but certainly not the only way.

If I was starting our farm from scratch I’d plan to use silvopasture principles. We have trees in our pastures, but they’re not there specifically as a dual human/livestock food source.  Other than some black walnut trees, I don’t think we have any trees in our pastures that produce human food.

Trying to establish fruit trees inside an existing pasture would be problematic of course.  We’d have to fence them out for years, and that just isn’t feasible for us.

But we do have plenty of fruit trees on our farm and we plant more every year.

Maybe some day, in the distant future, someone will graze animals around them.

I hope so.

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22 comments on “Silvopasture

  1. BeeHappee says:

    Thank you, another new word for me. 🙂 In Lithuania pastures were separate from orchards, although sometimes my grandpa would bring in the cows to graze by the trees, so he does not have to cut the grass. Cutting was all done by hand with the Scythe – to get full hay supply for winter – so it was very labor intensive. He was out there, every summer morning at 5 am cutting with his scythe. . Big part of apple orchard was actually interspersed with patches of potato fields.
    Is there a reason you can’t graze your goats under there? Do they damage the trees?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Goats would destroy our fruit trees so that isn’t an option. We have lots of fruit trees, but none are in pastures. Maybe someday when the trees are larger we (or those who come after us) will fence in the pastures and graze livestock there. I like the concept.

      I can only imagine how much work went into cutting and putting up enough hay for a Lithuanian winter, by hand. The things our ancestors did often make us look soft by comparison.

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  2. bobraxton says:

    On our corner suburban lot I have (so far) never considered fruit tree(s). Wondering what fruit(s), northern Virginia.

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  3. Joanna says:

    You might not be able to graze cattle, but how about chickens? I know goats might be a little too destructive, but we have made a point of not taking out too many trees on our pastures, to provide shade but also food – the sheep love the willow.We also use the spruce trees that kind of grow like weeds around our place as food for our alpacas, we throw a tree in every now and again over the winter and they love that – well the girls do, the boys are strictly grain and hay guys and won’t eat half of what the girls will. After the fruit had finished on our fruit bushes we let the chickens and alpacas in to eat what they wanted – the alpacas were restricted to just a short stint but the chickens could come and go more easily. It clears the bugs up, hopefully and they enjoy the change.

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    • Bill says:

      Our chickens free range and do spend time around the fruit trees. I was thinking more of cattle or pigs.

      There are woods in our pastures, but no fruit trees. A shame there aren’t some grand old apple trees. When I was a boy there was a big June apple tree in the main pasture, but died long ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. avwalters says:

    We’re planning on brambles, and chickens. The chickens can forage in the brambles to keep the bugs down. So far, we’re not contemplating four-footed critters. Your goats look cute, though, and it’s tempting.

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  5. Sue says:

    I echo what Joanna says–I think chickens would be great with fruit trees.

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    • Bill says:

      Our chickens do roam among some of our apple trees. That’s good but I’m wishing we had mature fruit trees in the pastures with the goats and pigs. Just dreaming…

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  6. Eumaeus says:

    It is problematic but feasible depending on scale and resources. We use 4 t-posts, wrap with upside-down field fence and some barbed wire to encircle and prevent rubbing. It’s working so far…
    We planted apples this way last year in a pasture. This year we’re continuing w/chestnuts and pecans…

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah it’s doable. But risky.
      For us it would be best in the pasture we’re keeping pigs in. We do have some large oaks in there and they feast on the acorns in the fall. But it would be nice if we had some fruit trees as well.

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      • Eumaeus says:

        Yeah, we just have cows and for sure it is an experiment. Pigs fattened on acorns and chestnuts sure sounds like the right model though, eh? If we can set it up right…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I can definitely relate to your issues with establishing silvopasture techniques in an already existing system. I think it’s doable, but needs some thought – one of those things to put on simmer in the back of the brain while you gear up for the busy season. Come fall/winter, you’ll be able to think it through better, with the benefit of observing your existing system through a restoration ag lens.

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    • Bill says:

      Another option would be to use temporary fencing and run the pigs under the fruit trees in the fall. That might work but I’m not sure the effort of moving them from the pasture to do that is worth it. We’re fortunate that we not in an either/or situation with pastures and orchards. We can have both, but for now at least not in the same spot.

      I just ordered The Resilient Farm and Homestead so I’ll likely soon have even more permaculture ideas bubbling around in my head.

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  8. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, interesting concept to marry animals and orchard to care for one another. I can see that goats would not be a good thing for newly planted trees or even the smaller fruit trees. Sheep might be a good fit for the smaller fruit trees but goats seem to eat just about every thing including tree branches and bark. I’ve not raised either animal so I might be way off here but from talking with people that do, it’s my impression of the difference between sheep and goats. I find it pretty amazing that goats can eat poison ivy without any ill effects. They have an amazing gastro intestinal system.

    Have a great goat pasturing day.

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    • Bill says:

      Goats love poison ivy. And I’ve watched in amazement as they eat briers and thorns (even the kids). Of course they love eating young trees too, so planting fruit trees inside a goat pasture is a very risky proposition!

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  9. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    So logical, isn’t it?
    Here’s to the day you and Cherie can pasture the goats under your apple trees ; )

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    • Bill says:

      We just have to think long-term. First plant an orchard and let it mature. Then incorporate it into the pasture. Things like that can’t be rushed. It’s interesting to me to see slow-growing fruit and nut trees growing on old homesites. Those folks were thinking long-term when they planted those trees.

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  10. Zambian Lady says:

    Silvopasture seems like a very good system since the trees are fertilized while the animals eat the fruit. I am wondering, though – do you gather manure for fertilizing your plants/trees?

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