As you drive through the Southeastern United States, beautiful, expansive forestland spreads out before you, perfect for recreation and hunting, but also comprising the region’s imperative forestry industry, which provides timber, wood pulp and more.
Forests are incredibly important for many different reasons, including improving air quality by filtering pollutants and regulating watershed. Doug Moore, Loan Processor with AgAmerica Lending, says “from an economic standpoint, they are a plentiful, biodegradable, renewable, recyclable, sustainable product that provides jobs and income for millions.”
To keep these complex ecosystems healthy and thriving, managing timberland is essential. Farmers implement a variety of conservation methods, and one involves a specific category of animals, and it’s not the deer, squirrels and birds you might expect to see in a forest – it’s livestock.
“Forestry and cattle can coexist through a practice known as silvopasture,” says Moore. “This is the integrated management of forestry, livestock and, of course, the necessary forage for that livestock. It doesn’t only pertain to cattle; it’s also very common with sheep.” However, when allowing livestock to graze on the forest floor, it is important to balance the benefit for both the animals and the forests.
Reciprocal Benefits for Forests, Livestock and Ranchers
“The cattle naturally keep the forest floor groomed by eating native forage, which helps cut down on competition with the timber for nutrients,” says Don Harden, Relationship Manager with AgAmerica Lending. “The grazing cattle also help generate their own forage. Split-hooved animals, like cattle, aerate the soil as they graze which keeps it loosened and trenched, allowing for natural seed planting and growth to occur. One animal grazing digs the trench, the seed falls in, and the next animal buries the seed.”
Another important benefit of livestock grazing for the forests is the reduction of fine fuels – which include dry grasses, leaves or needles – that can cause forest fires to spread quickly. Livestock help to reduce the amount of fine fuels in a forest, ultimately reducing the chance of fire.
“Benefits for the cattle rancher come through a decreased diurnal soil temperature,” Moore says. “Due to the shade, it’s cooler under the forest canopy. Therefore, the forage doesn’t lose nutrient value in the harsh sun and the animals are less stressed in the heat of the summer.”
Harden adds that rotational grazing in forests gives pasture a rest, and livestock a high-protein source of food. “It gives hay the opportunity to regrow during this time and diversifies the diet of the herd,” he says. This rotational grazing strategy also helps cycle minerals back into the soil helping forests regenerate, and cattle ranchers profit.
However, livestock farmers and ranchers do need to be cautious, as overgrazing can become an issue if the timing, duration and intensity aren’t properly managed.
Keeping Forests Healthy
Silvopasture is just one of many forest management systems used to keep forests healthy. USDA National Agroforestry Center offers more detail on this and other practices.
“The most important thing is to keep biodiversity in mind,” advises Moore. “That is, make sure your forest management plan increases the overall health of the ecosystem while accomplishing your timber management objectives.”
At AgAmerica Lending we are proud to apply our Southeast commodity expertise to financing timberland and cattle ranch operations. Let us help support your forest management program with a customized land loan package.
Benefits of Livestock Grazing in Forest Infographic: