Transition of Wooded Paddocks to Woodland Silvopasture for Integration into Rotational Grazing System

Progress report for GNC22-347

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,983.00
Projected End Date: 10/25/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Missouri-Columbia
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Ashley Conway
University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry
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Project Information


Approximately one-third of the land area in Missouri is forests and/or woodlands, much of which is on privately-owned farms. Despite these farms predominately characterized as pastureland, livestock producers and landowners utilize wooded areas due to the demand for additional acreage, environmental benefits of animals, and vegetation management. Unmanaged woodland grazing has shown to be detrimental to the agro-ecosystem due to damage to tree stands, decrease in forage diversity, and reduced animal productivity. The negative impacts have resulted in agricultural and forestry professionals’ general opposition to woodland grazing, and subsequent lack of support for producers and landowners to access knowledge and skills in sustainable management of woodlands. Woodland silvopasture, the intentional and integrated management of livestock in wooded areas, has the potential to become a component within rotational grazing practices through the management of pre-existing wooded paddocks to diversify forage production and provide a microclimate beneficial to livestock performance. Establishment of an integrated woodland silvopasture system has the potential tocreate a microclimate to maximize forage production and increase livestock performance compared to an open grazing system. The proposed research project aims to develop an applied approach to convert unmanaged wooded paddocks into woodland silvopasture for integration into a rotational grazing system. The project aims to enhance producers and landowners’ knowledge of integration for improved natural resource management and optimized production, support applied development of woodland silvopasture systems, and provide the management techniques and skills to increase sustainability and resilience with adaptive grazing practices.


The project will be executed at the University of Missouri Thompson Farm Research Center over two consecutive grazing seasons. Cow/calf pairs (n = 72) will be assigned to either grazing treatment: (1) open-pasture rotational grazing or (2) integrated woodland silvopasture rotational grazing, April - September. Ambient climate measurements and soil samples will be collected to provide descriptive characteristics of the two systems. Forage samples will be collected to assess forage production and nutritive value between the two treatments. Livestock performance measurements will be measured to evaluate the impact of the grazing systems on the animals. Additionally, a participatory cohort, made up of five producers and landowners, will be created to serve as the project advisory group to inform the development and progression of the research project. An exchange of knowledge will be reinforced through project collaboration with extension agents and professionals that will increase participant knowledge in the areas of forestry, forage management, and livestock and grazing management.

Project Objectives:

Learning outcome (1): livestock producers and forested landowners will gain increased awareness and understanding of animal performance, forage productivity, and woodland management within the woodland silvopasture system. Learning outcome (2): livestock producers and forested landowners in the project advisory group will increase knowledge and application of sustainable practices through the independent design of a woodland silvopasture system. The plan will engage producers and landowners in the integration of sustainable practices. Learning outcome (3): livestock producers and forested landowners will comprehend the integration of woodland silvopasture as a component to rotational grazing systems for natural resource management and system resilience.

Action outcome (1): producers and landowners (n = 50) will gain the capacity to identify woodland silvopasture and establish goals in integration of the system during the University of Missouri Thompson Farm Field Day. Action outcome (2): livestock producers and forested landowners (n = 5) involved in the advisory group will participate in development of a producer-focused extension woodland silvopasture field guide. The production of the management field guide aims to promote strategic planning and action for integration of sustainable management practice. Action outcome (3): producers and landowners (n = 50) will have access to the management field guide as a resource in the integration of alternative agroforestry techniques for sustainable forest, forest, and grazing management.


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  • Dr. Benjamin Knapp (Educator and Researcher)


Materials and methods:

Objective 1: Establish and evaluate microclimate and livestock performance in a woodland silvopasture rotational grazing system compared to an open pasture rotational grazing system.

Mid-June 2023, the University of Missouri Thompson Farm Research Center in northern Missouriprovided information on the farm Angus cow herd (n = 226) to include animal ID#, date of birth, current age and weight, parity, and number of calves. This information was stratified and randomly assigned to comprise a total of 48 cows within six groups among two treatments (1) open-pasture rotational grazing (OP, n =3) or (2) open-woodland silvopasture rotational grazing (WS, n =3). To stratify, a portion of the number of cows was reduced by excluding replacement heifers and cows beyond the age of 10 years old. These exclusions were necessary to focus on cow-calf performance within a uniform sample population. The cows included were sorted by age and parity and stratified into age groups (blocks). We calculated the mean, median, and standard deviation of each block to determine uniformity and used the mean to represent each age group. The difference between the averages among the different age blocks was calculated to highlight the “center” and selected animals whose weights fell within one standard deviation of the mean to represent the study sample (n = 48). The highlighted pool was used to randomize treatments and efficiently create replicates within the farm’s available resources and structure. Within the last week of June two-day initial body weights were collected on cows and calves, along with cow body condition score (BCS) to obtain baseline measurements. Cows were also tagged with respective identification and sorted in groups within the larger herd rotational groups (n = 6) for the control year.

In the first week of July cow/calf pairs (n = 48) were rotated through the current Thompson farm open pasture grazing plan (1 d- and 2-d grazing periods) which involved rotational grazing through open pastures and unmanaged woodland paddocks. Due to a drought experienced by the farm that resulted in a decrease of forage, cow/calf rotational groups were reduced (n = 5). Cow/calf pairs were provided continuous access to water within each paddock of the grazing rotation. Forage samples were collected in consecutive four weeks schedule from the beginning of July – end September to assess forage biomass production, nutritive value, and digestibility within the open pasture treatments. The initial sample was clipped in each pasture (n = 6) to remove all above-ground herbaceous vegetation within each sample plot and weighed to estimate dry matter. Subsequent plant biomass (n = 30 per pasture) was measured by the falling plate meter method. Due to the scanty amount of forage within the wooded paddocks, no collections were performed within the wooded acreage, and forage quantity valued as zero. Exclusion cages (n = 12, 2 per paddock) were constructed into the open pastures (n = 6) to estimate the biomass accumulation within each. Randomly selected cows were fitted with heat stress monitors to capture environmental measurements (temperate, relative humidity, heat stress index (HIS), and dew point temperature). The end of July – beginning of August, personnel within the forestry lab at the University of Missouri completed a forest inventory with 1/5-acre circular plots in 82 acres to assess species type and tree measurement diameter at breast height (DBH). The forest inventory served to characterize the woodlands and help to determine parameters to increase management and facilitate transition. In the end of the grazing season, Final calf BW were collected at weaning in the end of September, and cow BW and BCS were collected the following week in the beginning of October.

Unfortunately, within July the farm experienced a severe summer storm which caused significant damage throughout the property and specifically downed trees within the woodland paddocks. The storm caused limited accessibility and extensive impaired conditions for personnel and animals. We connected with university personnel and external contractors to develop a plan to clean-up the damage for the project and arranged for a site visit with a referred contractor to obtain a quote by October. The quote was sent to the project advisors and research farm directors to assess which resulted in the indefinite postponement of the project related to Objective 1, due to resource and time constraints. Thus, the baseline data collected within the control year will not be utilized further as there is no comparison treatment to successfully meet the Objective 1. Though Objective 1 is unable to continue into the second year, we will proceed with Objective 2 and provide workshops and exchange with the producers.

Objective 2: Establish and engage a participatory cohort of livestock producers and landowners as a project advisory group for collaborative learning for improved livestock and woodland management.

A participatory cohort made up of livestock producers and landowners (n = 5) was created to provide feedback and insight into the development, progression, and findings of the proposed woodland silvopasture research project. To recruit participants an advertisement was created in February to circulate through the Center for Agroforestry social media outlets. Promotion of the advisory group persisted until the targeted number of producers and landowners was obtained. The developed project advisory group was made up of five producers (4 males, 1 female) that engaged in livestock operations and owned and/or leased wooded acreage with diverse background in the agricultural or natural resource field. Following the development of the group, communication was established to acquire schedules and provide further details on the timeline, responsibilities of the group, and logistics for compensation. The initial project advisory group meeting was held Thursday, August 17th. Producers (n = 4), project researchers (n = 2), University of Missouri professor (n = 1), and farm manager (n = 1) attended the initial meeting at the Thompson Farm Research Center. Within a four-hour timeframe, the university professionals and producers were introduced, producers were given a tour of the property and research paddocks, discussed goals and objectives of the project, and hosted a woodland management workshop. The project discussions were held in a luncheon setting to ease communication. The conversation included background on silvopasture, overview of the proposed project, and insight into the producers’ feedback on the project and experience in establishing and managing woodland silvopasture. Following the discussion, a mini workshop was hosted to provide information on aspects of woodland management and cost-effective alternative techniques the producers could use to perform on their woods.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: Establish and evaluate microclimate and livestock performance in a woodland silvopasture rotational grazing system compared to an open pasture rotational grazing system.

The Thompson Farm Research Center located within northern Missouri comprises around 1200-acres of land, in which for the project provided forested area of 82 acres and 112 acres of open pastures. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Ecological Site Description (ESD) indicated a Till Upland Savanna and Loess Upland Prairie soil types within the area. A forest inventory was performed on 82 acres with 1/5-acre plots to characterize the tree species. The predominate tree species identified were Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Red Elm (Ulmus rubra), White Oak (Quercus alba), Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), White Ash (Fraxinus americana), and Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos). Other tree species that were indicated within the forested area included: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), Post Oak (Quercus stellata), Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria), Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), American Basswood (Tilia americana), Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis), Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra), Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Mulberry Species (Morus spp.), White Mulberry (Morus alba), Red Oak, American Elm (Ulmus americana), Elm Species (Ulmus spp.), Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).

Forage biomass samples (n = 720) were retrieved over four sample collection periods within six open pastures. The overall average biomass for the pastures was 2.90 inches. Biomass production decreased over the collection period, beginning of July (2.99 in.) and end of September (2.80 in.), with an average forage dry matter of 31.4%. Among cows, the average age was 5 years which was uniform among the grazing groups. Initial body weights among cows were 1,206 lbs. with an average body condition score of 3.3. Average calf weights were reported as 353 lbs. At the end of the grazing season average cow weights decreased to 999 lbs. with a body score of 2.7, and calf weights increased by 190 lbs. at weaning for an average 543 lbs. Cow body weight and body condition score tended to be similar among the grazing groups, though one of the grazing groups final calf weights was the lowest at 416 lbs. The grazing group experienced a lower weaning weight due to lesser number of calves because of pre-project mortality.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

We hosted our 1st Thompson Project Advisory Meeting at the Thompson Research Farm in Spickard, MO, Thursday, August 17th. Producers were provided a tour of the 1200-acre property with a focus on research sites, followed by a luncheon discussion of the topic silvopasture, their prior involvement and experience in management of livestock, forage, and trees. Also, we hosted a one-hour workshop on woodland management, led by Dr. Benjamin Knapp, Associate Professor in Forestry at the University of Missouri, and Interim Director in the Center for Agroforestry. The project was discussed during the Center for Agroforestry 15th Annual Agroforestry Symposium: Silvopasture in Practice on January 17th and Annual Review on January 18th by Dr. Ashley Conway, Assistant Professor in Silvopasture as an overview of the projects in the Silvopasture Lab.

Within the next few months, we are planning workshops for the producers in the areas of prescribed burning, native forage establishment in woods, and grazing management. As well, we are connecting with the Center for Agroforestry Communications and Outreach Team for inclusion in newsletters.

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The first objective of our study was unable to continue after the initial year due to weather related damage, however, the second objective has shown the capacity to impact the social aspect of agricultural sustainability. Specifically with the integration of livestock and trees, there has been a consistent lack of limited resources and knowledge to support producers and landowners to implement the sustainable management of silvopasture. For the project, we included five producers as a project advisory group and provided an exchange of information in the areas of woodland, forage, and grazing management. To act on the exchange of information, we gained support from University of Missouri research professionals to lead producer-focused workshops. The term producer-focused means demonstrating techniques which can be used by the producers within their management, considering a limit of financial resources for equipment and labor. We found that the strategy created a smaller-casual setting which allowed the producers to ask a multitude of questions and obtain responses. Furthermore, the producers were able to connect with additional resources to learn more information such as literature articles and organizations. In the future, we will connect the producers with resources such as the Missouri Prescribed Burn Association and University Extension services. The economic and environmental benefits from the second objective aim to provide low-cost techniques for sustainable management and increase the awareness of sustainable practices that the producers can apply on their property in the future.

Knowledge Gained:

The project allowed me to increase my skill-building in project management and communication among a non-technical audience. The inclusion of producers as a project advisory group increased my knowledge of the techniques used by the producers in efforts to adapt sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices such as silvopasture. This supported my optimistic attitude towards increasing the prevalence of producers within applied research projects to increase collaborative thinking and problem-solving, especially with the objective of promoting adoption among producers and landowners. Though, the project increased my awareness of the difficulties in working with producers’ schedules and individual objectives and goals. It is important to be aware of these objectives and maintain transparent communication to foster collaboration and understanding.  

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.