The Establishment of Native Plant Species for Livestock Forage and Wildlife Habitat in Silvopasture Systems

Progress report for GNC19-289

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,944.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipients: University of Missouri; The Curators of the University of Missouri
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Harley Naumann
University of Missouri
Expand All

Project Information


This project will evaluate the establishment of native plant species for livestock forage and wildlife habitat in a silvopasture system. A mix of native cool and warm season grasses, forbs, and legumes will be planted in two treatments (black walnut and pitch-loblolly pine) of mature silvopasture systems. The rate of establishment beneath each canopy type will be compared to an open pasture control. Forage nutritive value (fiber, protein and digestibility) will be measured.

Giving talks and presentations at university agriculture research center field days will be the main source of outreach to farmers and ranchers, as these are heavily attended events by the target audience. A video chronicle of the project produced and posted on social media pages hosted by the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (CAFNR) will allow producers the opportunity to learn, comment, ask questions, and stay updated on project progress throughout the year. Attendees of field days and other meetings will be given pre- and post-presentation surveys to determine the level of knowledge gained for the different aspects of our project. Questions on the surveys will help provide reflection on whether or not the project outcomes have been met.

There are four main outcomes related to farmers and ranchers for this project. First, they will learn how to establish native species in a silvopasture system to use as forage for livestock. Second, farmers and ranchers will be able to use these newly learned practices to incorporate pollinator-friendly species into their own existing forage-livestock systems, and that some may consider managing existing timber land to create a silvopasture system for improved land management and livestock use. Being able to produce two commodities (timber and forage for grazing/haying) on the same amount land where previously only one had been produced allows farmers and ranchers to expand their enterprise and increase their economic value without having to purchase more acres. Incorporating the native plant species as a forage choice draws pollinators to the area creating a more aesthetically pleasing environment for wildlife habitat while improving quality of life for the people and their livestock.

Project Objectives:

The goals of this project are that farmers and ranchers:

  • Learn how to establish native species best suited to the shade environment of different silvopasture systems to use as forage for livestock that will also serve as an attraction to pollinators.
  • Learn the benefits of having established native forages in silvopasture.
  • Are able to use these newly learned practices into action to incorporate pollinator-friendly species into their own existing forage-livestock systems.
  • Consider managing their existing timber land to develop a silvopasture system for improved land management and livestock use.


Materials and methods:

To prepare the site for planting, existing vegetation was mowed to ground level and allowed to regrow. Regrowth was sprayed with a broad-spectrum herbicide and then mowed to ground level a second and final time. The planting area was divided in half to represent Year 1 and Year 2 of the study.

Cool season grass species (Canada Wild Rye; Early Wild Rye; Virginia Wild Rye) were drilled into the Year 1 sections of the three replications of Pitch X Loblolly Pine and Black Walnut silvopasture as well as an open pasture control around mid-September 2019. After emergence, stand counts were taken weekly in each treatment at 1, 3, and 5 meter locations from the tree row; weekly measurements continued until first frost. These measurements will help determine if there was any variation in stand count due to changes in tree canopy density as one moves from the tree trunk to the center of the alley. All remaining plant species (warm season grasses; forbs; legumes) were frost seeded via drill in mid-December 2019. Frost seeding allows for vernalization, which is necessary for some species to break dormancy in the following spring.

Plant stand counts for all Year 1 species resumed after the last frost in early 2020. Additionally, environmental data was collected through sensors connected to a HOBO data logger. These sensors collected measurements for ambient temperature, soil moisture, and light availability (photosynthetically active radiation, PAR). Two sets of sensors collected data over a 24-hour period at a randomized location in each treatment and were rotation through random locations throughout the course of the growing season. The data collected through these sensors will indicate any environmental differences between the two different types of tree canopies.

Year 2 cool season grass species were drilled mid-September 2020 following a mowing of existing vegetation. Stand counts were collected following the same protocol as Year 1. The frost seeding of all other Year 2 species is scheduled for mid-February 2021.

Research results and discussion:

Project still in progress.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

University restrictions due to Covid-19 prevented the occurrence of the intended education and outreach activities. For much of the Year 1 growing season, the number of personnel allowed at the research centers was limited to one person per project during a scheduled time; this prohibited media personnel from being able to film project progression for the university social media pages. Additionally, all in-person field days and other educational activities were cancelled and moved to a virtual platform with limited audience interaction.

Outreach for Year 2 has a more positive outlook. Drone footage of Year 2 frost seeding is scheduled for February 2021; this footage will be posted to the research center social media pages. After Year 1 results are analyzed, a meeting will be scheduled with an advisory board of industry professionals to communicate information to farmers and ranchers. It is also expected for Year 1 results to be presented at field days later this year.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Project still in progress

Knowledge Gained:

Project still in progress


Project still in progress

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.