Advancing on-farm understanding and application of silvopasture technologies in Pennsylvania

Final Report for ONE13-189

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,426.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Susan Parry
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Project Information


Many landowners in Pennsylvania utilize their wooded areas for passive forest grazing, e.g. providing shade in summer and overwintering for shelter, which is detrimental to the forest and contributes little forage towards sustaining a herd. In contrast, silvopasturing of woodlands that are currently being mismanaged has potential to increase the forested land under management for wood production while increasing available pasture area. Silvopasturing is an opportunity to integrate wooded areas within the overall farm operation, resulting in greater incentive for good stewardship through more deliberate and efficient land use.

Management is the key to the success of silvopastures, but we found a lack of information and decision support tools at the time needed to implement the practices in the most effective manner possible. Our project attempted to address knowledge gaps regarding management of forest and grazing lands together to achieve a level of farm diversification, therefore investing in the future of the farm.

The goal of the project was to develop case studies on two Pennsylvania farm demonstration sites, then create various products that educate and highlight technical considerations for practitioners establishing and implementing silvopasture in both an open pasture and a wood lot management situation.  One site was Dickinson College Farm (DCF) and the other was Wyebrook Farm.

Some important takeaways from this project include:

  • Overall, creating silvopasture in existing, open pasture resulted in less labor costs for DCF than establishing pasture in an existing woodlot.
  • Creating durable tree cages is an effective method to protect new trees from livestock damage and can save time in the long run.
  • Collaboration between parties in implementing silvopasture, such as farmers and foresters, can yield creative and effective solutions to inevitable challenges.
  • Farmers may consider alternative methods to tree protection that reduce labor and financial costs, by creating natural barriers (i.e. by surrounding newly planted trees with plants such as Woody Hawthorne). Likewise, farmers may consider planting trees very resilient to livestock damage, requiring minimal to no protection for adequate yields. On the other hand, farmers may consider planting trees that are relatively inexpensive, and may provide minimal to no protection for the trees from livestock damage, with the expectation that some trees will die.


The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems for farms, forests, and communities resulting in healthy and sustainable agricultural systems to be passed on to future generations (USDA Agroforestry Strategic Framework, 2011).   In Pennsylvania, nearly 70% of the 17 million acres of forest land is privately owned and approximately 20% of those acres are associated with farms, but are not generally integrated into farming operations. The results of a Penn State study of farmers and forest land owners indicated “that agroforestry could satisfy specific land management objectives within diverse populations” (Strong and Jacobson 2005).

Further, the study indicated that 36% of respondents were interested in non-timber forest products or forest farming. One-quarter of the participants indicated interest in practices to enhance livestock production such as silvopasture, windbreaks, and riparian forest buffers. Nearly one-third of the respondents were interested in agroforestry practices that complemented timber management, including crop-tree management and forest farming.  But the most relevant statistic for technical service providers and resource professionals is that 90% of the respondents indicated they would consider adopting agroforestry if information were made available and if they could see working demonstrations of agroforestry technologies.

The project focused on one of the five stated categories of agroforestry practices, silvopasture systems. All silvopasture systems have three management components: trees, forages, and livestock. With silvopasture, the landowner must understand each of the three components and how they interact in order to be successful. Correctly managed, combined production will be greater than in traditional forestry and forage-livestock systems (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011).

Our project goal was to develop case studies on two demonstration sites highlighting technical considerations when establishing and implementing silvopasture in both an open pasture situation and a forest ecosystem. Despite great potential, expansion of silvicultural practices to certain regions of the United States, and specifically to the Northeast, has been “constrained by lack of producer familiarity and a scarcity of management recommendations” (Fike et al, 2004).

Silvopasture can be developed from one of two perspectives: enriching open pastures with trees, or modifying natural forests through thinning to develop forage plants in the understory. But regardless of the situation, silvopasturing requires “careful attention to the production of sufficient quality forage, to sound livestock husbandry, and to sustainable woodland practices – and also to the practitioner’s goals” (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011).

Through the project, we aimed to substantiate past research and deliver practical technical guidance specifically for Pennsylvania, including lists of suitable tree and forage species as well as materials outlining other important considerations during the process of establishing and maintaining silvopasture, ensuring greater success for those undertaking the practice. The project observed and monitored two farms currently establishing silvopasture systems and developed guidelines based on their experiences.

Our project differed from other research in that we were directly observing the differences (and technical considerations) between two silvopasturing methods, open pasture establishment and converting an on-farm forested lot to silvopasture. Our project built upon present knowledge and research, resulting in the provision of technical information to assist both practitioners and conservation professionals. The intended outcomes of the project were agency-supported tools that will help to guide the process of silvopasture establishment and utilitarian reference materials developed through a partnership effort between agricultural and forestry interests.


Advancing On-Farm Understanding and Application of Silvopasture Technologies in Pennsylvania: What is Silovpasture? Bowie, Emily. Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, 2014.

Agroforestry Notes: From a Pasture to a Silvopasture System. Robinson, James L., and Terry Clason. USDA National Agroforestry Center, 2000.

Considerations for Establishing and Managing Silvopastures. Fike, John H., Alicia L. Buergler, James A. Burger, and Robert L. Kallenbach. Plant Management Network International, 2004.

“Data Collection and Analysis for Silvopasture at DCF.” Rubano, Melissa. Phone Interview. 2015.

NESARE Silvopasture Project Field Day, Boiling Springs, PA. Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, 20 Oct. 2015.

“Perspectives of the Dickinson College Farm Concerning Experiences with Silvopasture.” Halpin, Jenn. Personal Interview. 2015.

"Silvopasture." Training Manual for Applied Agroforestry Practices. University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, 2013.

Silvopasturing in the Northeast: An Introduction to Opportunities and Strategies for Integrating Livestock in Private Woodlands. Chedzoy, Brett J., and Peter J. Smallidge. Cornell University Cooperative Extension. Plant Management Network International, 2011.

Working Trees Info: What Is Silvopasture? Brantly, Sid. USDA National Agroforestry Center, 2013.


Project Objectives:

The following objectives were achieved as described:

  1. Utilizing the concepts of on-farm demonstration to connect practitioners, scientists, and technical advisors. This was accomplished by establishing and maintaining two silvopasture demonstration sites on farms that are presently committed to silvopasture development, in both open pasture and wooded areas. The project teams (producer, DCNR rep., ARS rep. and NRCS rep) conducted at least one technical tour per year to discuss status and findings on each site. In addition, the team then discussed potential adaptations that each producer should make in their on-farm management of either the wooded or open pasture lot. Ground cover/available forage, tree condition and animal impact was evaluated at each visit.
  2. Each project team also discussed any issues/questions the farm operator had as the project process moved along. Forage establishment was of particular interest to the project teams, so much discussion of methodology and practical application took place regarding best practices for spring/fall fertilization and seeding establishment for quality forage growth. At the Dickinson College Farm (DCF), grab samples of forage were taken for quality analysis three times during the grazing season coinciding with times that the cows had access to the forested area. At the Wyebrook farm, after the plant inventory was conducted due to the discovery of plant indicator species in saturated areas within the silvopasture plot, a design for additional fencing to eliminate access to the wet areas was presented to the farmer. At DCF, a pasture shade seed mix was broadcast into the wood lot area in fall 2014 so additional observations were documented regarding forage establishment. Also at DCF, tree establishment in the pasture area had become an issue (2 planted trees were impacted/lost due to animal impact), so additional investments were made in replacing and ensuring tree protection.
  3. Collecting various data that explores and substantiates technical information for silvopasture systems. This was done through USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), whose role was to set up monitoring protocols and regularly collect samples as well as analyze results. The potential protocols were discussed by the project teams early and often, but after two years of sampling for soil compaction, forage quality and visual changes, we felt that we had learned as much as we could. The data were inconclusive in terms of providing solid monitoring protocols fro this type of project. Due to this lack of definitive results, ARS discontinued their work on the project in 2014. 
  4. Creating networks and “communities of practice” between practitioners and technical advisors. We built upon the grazing adviser approach in Pennsylvania through GLC members and project participants. The agencies involved, including ARS, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry and the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began to develop technical guidance documents to further support conservation field staff and producers in their efforts. We intended to develop a full suite of learning opportunities, ranging from tried and proven approaches (publications, field days, and workshops) to technological innovations (e.g., electronic or e-learning). We were successful with most of the intended products, though one item that was not completed was the Farmer Technical Guidance document, which is currently under peer review and will be released at a later date.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dean Carlson
  • Tracey Coulter
  • Patrick Fasano
  • Dr. Aimee Hafla
  • Jennifer Halpin
  • Richard Hartlieb, Jr.
  • Duane Hertzler
  • Dan Ludwig
  • Melisaa Rubano
  • Dr. Kathy Soder
  • Suzette Truax


Materials and methods:


March 15 – May 2013: project partners met to finalize the study design and begin to collect on-farm data for the project. We assessed the status of each operator’s silvopasture plots, both wooded and open, and supplemented/refined their systems with the addition of trees in open pasture and assistance with clearing the wooded lots, where applicable. 

June – August 2013: Baseline Data collection took place beginning in April 2013 at each site through out the grazing season. Forestry partners (DCNR, private contractor) recorded existing tree species in terms of type and physical characteristics. Protocol “training” was completed at Dickinson College Farm (DCF) in June 2013;

September – November 2013: Final establishment of sample areas completed, to include both open pasture and wooded lots.

March - May 2013:  Incorporated grazing animals into established sample areas with sampling and observation activities.  The farm operators had already incorporated minimum livestock activity within the demonstration areas so this was a slight modification from the original that had these areas be free from past livestock activity. All information on timing and types of livestock that started in March 2013 was evaluated along with all monitoring data collected after the 2014 grazing season.

June – August 2014:  Sampling and observation activities occurred and the first technical tour took place on both farms. Dickinson student intern gathered available information such as literature review and references, data sets and other materials to present to partners for development of agency technical guidance.

As a slight modification,  the project team hosted a technical tour at DCF in July 2014, with a goal of establishing with DCNR a “basal assessment” for additional tree removal; the project team also conducted a technical tour and plant inventory to determine regeneration potential at Wyebrook Farm, during which some wet areas and soils (via indicator plant species) were discovered to be of concern within the wooded lot. In addition, discussion with ARS resulted in the termination of subaward agreement between GLCI and ARS with project work continuing as planned (ARS will continue to be a collaborator on the overall project as well as assist with data collection and technical guidance development).

September - November 2014:  First field day/pasture walk were conducted at both farms; sampling and observation activities continue; project team meets to organize information and review project status. As a slight variation,  a “Women and Their Woods” workshop was conducted at DCF in late summer but there was no public field day at Wyebrook Farms due to the wetland issues. We are working with the farmer to address the need to eliminate those areas from livestock impact. In addition, we reallocated the ARS budget to other direct project costs, so worked with DCF to replace trees lost in the open pasture situation, as well as better protect all trees from impact. The project team met (in-person and email) several times to review project status and discuss potential modifications.

March – May 2015: Sampling and observation activities occurred and a second technical tour took place on both farms. Video and project fact sheet promoted and posted on website.

June – August 2015: Sampling and observation activities continue; project team met to organize information, begin product development and review project status.

September - November 2015: Regional workshop conducted at DCF with over 35 attendees; began summarization of data and observations collected to finalize case study reports and technical guidance materials.

March 1, 2016: Final technical tour, with team discussion and draft report provided. Discussion with both farms regarding their impressions of the project, set-up for final video production and final project materials developed.

In terms of sampling, the ARS employed on-farm data collection to evaluate soil physical properties and quality, as well as forage quality and yield in a pasture area that was transitioned to silvopasture by the addition of rows of honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) and in an on-farm woodlot thinned to support forage suitable for silvopasturing. The on-farm data was gathered at the Wyebrook Farm in Chester County, PA and the Dickinson College Farm in Cumberland County, PA throughout the grazing season (May-November) for two consecutive years.

Soil cores were taken on both farms at a depth of 8” once during the grazing season for soil chemical analysis (Ag Analytical Labs, University Park, PA). Biological activity was recorded as a baseline indicator of soil health, through USDA protocols for soil respiration, specifically through visual observation of soil color and Woods End Solivita respiration test (Woods End Research, 1997). Bulk density soil samples were taken using the core method (Uhland, 1950) in the spring and fall of the grazing season at 10 points in the silvopasture areas to determine soil compaction. Additional bulk density samples were taken within a fenced enclosure around several of the locust trees. There was also a visual comparison of conditions before and after introducing cattle into the plots at both the Wyebrook and Dickinson silvopasture sites.

Forage suitability for silvopasture systems needs to be assessed from the perspective of total plant and animal production and species persistence rather than just shade tolerance. There are many potential cool and warm season forage species that can be used in silvopasture systems. Choices should be based on site adaptability, livestock needs, landowner objectives, and compatibility with overstory tree species. A variety of plant types, including shrubs, grass, legumes, and forbs can make up the forage and browse component (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011). We analyzed the performance of various silvopasture forage species used on the demonstration farms in order to develop appropriate technical recommendations.

Forage yield and quality were evaluated monthly by clippings taken from representative sites within the silvopasture areas. Forage samples were dried for 48 hours in a forced air oven at 55°C, ground to pass through a 1-mm screen and analyzed for nutrient content, including dry matter, organic matter, protein, fiber, energy, and sugars by wet chemistry (Dairy One Forage Analysis Laboratory, Ithaca, NY). Botanical composition was evaluated monthly by sorting 3 representative clipped forage samples and sorting the components to the species level. Each plant species was bagged, dried at 55°C for 24 hours and weighed to quantify proportion of each species in the total sward.

Tree species selection is also an important consideration when establishing silvopastures. There are many tree species that are suited to silvopasture establishment, but utilizing hardwood species is not as well researched and understood as with conifer species (Fike et al, 2004). Desirable species characteristics include: marketable timber; high-quality wood; rapid growth; deep-rooted morphology; drought tolerance; soil enhancement (e.g. nitrogen fixation); production of additional products such as nuts or fodder; and provision of environmental conservation services. As part of the project, the DCNR Bureau of Forestry reviewed past literature on tree species appropriate for agroforestry products and develop a list of suggested desirable tree species to be incorporated into the silvopasture system on both demonstration farms, to include but not be limited to: Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollisima), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), Yellowwood (Cladradis kentukea), and Willow oak (Quercus phellos).

After considering trees native to Pennsylvania that provided these benefits, DCF ordered 71 trees from Shichtel’s Nursery in upstate New York, amounting to $5,285 (see Table 1).

Table I. Initial Trees Selected with Corresponding Cost.




Robinia pseudo. Purple Robe



Gleditsia tricanthos vars. Inermis /Halka Shademaster



Cladastris kentuckea



Malus ‘Harvest Gold’



Malus x ‘Red Jewel’



Quercus rubra



Catalpa speciosa



Tilia americana Legend



All trees were planted in the Fall of 2013 by volunteers and staff at DCF, then irrigated by hand periodically for about one month. Due to the fact that irrigating by hand is a relatively labor-intensive method, it was discontinued in the fall as there became adequate rainfall levels.

Forage quality was also analyzed from samples taken in May-September of 2013. Samples were taken by randomly tossing a frame up to 10 times in the woodlot, clipping forage within the frame to the ground and stopping once enough forage was collected for an appropriate sample size for analysis. The clipped forage was compiled in a cloth bag inside a cooler and weighed, and then weighed again after drying the sample in a 55 degree Celsius oven for 24 hours. Afterwards, the samples were ground at a size of 1mm and sent to Dairy One for analysis. 

  1. Meanwhile, grab samples of forage were collected for quality analyses three times during the grazing season, coinciding with times that the cows were given access to the woodlot. Furthermore, the botanical composition of the woodlot’s forage was assessed in randomly selected samples of the understory several times in 2013-2014, and categorized as grass, legumes, rocks, weeds, litter, or bare ground. Samples were taken by tossing a frame, 0.25 square meters in size, randomly for 20 points in the woodlot.
  2. Soil Quality: The project team initially attempted to measure soil compaction using bulk density soil samples. However, the results were inconclusive due to the excessively rocky soil of DCF’s woodlot, and subsequently they developed an alternative method for measuring compaction, in which soil penetrometer readings were taken monthly throughout the DCF grazing season. Three transects were established through the woodlot, and penetrometer readings were only taken along these transects. Furthermore, soil moisture was measured at 3-5 points along each transect with a probe to help determine whether penetrometer readings should be taken. The optimal average soil moisture for accurate penetrometer readings is 22-25%, and penetrometer readings were taken when soil moisture was relatively close to this optimal range (average soil moisture readings ranged from 18-46% on days when penetrometer readings were collected). Ten penetrometer readings were taken along each transect per measurement.
  3. Monitoring Protocols and Data Collection: The project team faced several challenges with managing the forage within the woodlot area, which already had various invasive plants growing.  An attempt was made to have the cattle control these invasives.
  4. In the Fall of 2014, the woodlot was limed in preparation for seeding the area with a pasture mix, which was purchased from King’s Agriseed. Since the difficult terrain in the woodlot was not conducive for using equipment, the area was limed by hand, a time-consuming process that would be difficult for larger plots. Due to labor costs, the project team decided to merely apply 500 of the optimal 1,000 pounds of lime to prepare the woodlot. Later, in early Spring 2015, the project team seeded the area.
  5. Basal Assessment and Canopy Clearing:  In addition to creating a silvopasture system in existing pasture, the project team established silvopasture in a one-half-acre area of a woodlot at DCF. The project team’s primary goal for this plot was to provide shade for cattle, control undesirable and invasive plant species, as well as provide desirable forage for livestock and to improve soil health. DCF has little interest in harvesting timber products, but could possibly consider hardwood harvest, mushroom production, or other options for the area in the future.
Research results and discussion:

Tree Protection results

  1. Fencing with Electric Netting

To protect newly planted trees from damage caused by livestock eating foliage and rubbing against the bark, DCF initially fenced off the trees with portable electric netting whenever livestock grazed nearby.

Weaknesses with this method include:

a. Very time-consuming

b. Unreliable in inclement weather: Electric net fencing can slack or completely collapse under snowfall or heavy rain, leaving trees vulnerable. After DCF’s fencing collapsed under snowfall in the Winter of 2014, sheep destroyed 8 of the farm’s new trees.

Strengths of this method include:

a. Economical: DCF had several fences it could use for this method, and was able to reuse the fences for other purposes after it transitioned to using other tree protection methods. 

2. Tree Cages 

Weaknesses with this method were:

a. In 2015, DCF decided to more permanently enclose each individual tree for improved protection, using cages. The new tree cages consisted of metal fencing wrapped around three T-posts per tree, secured with zip-ties. A spacing of the T-posts of approximately 6 feet from the tree and 6-8 feet from each other minimized the potential for damage from the largest livestock type on the farm, Angus cattle.

b. Time-consuming and labor intensive: Each tree cage took roughly 20 minutes to establish for a group of 3 workers. DCF found that it could efficiently establish the cages with people working in groups of 3, while other methods of protecting the trees can be efficiently completed with only one worker.

c. Vulnerable to livestock damage: The cages were too weak to withstand the strength of the cattle. Calves bent the bottom of the cages, which were set a few inches above the ground, and forced their way inside. Moreover, the cages were bent inwards as cattle rubbed against the sides, leaving the trees insufficiently protected. Due to the vulnerability of trees as the cages were damaged, two of DCF’s trees died and will be replaced in the future.

Strengths of this method of protection were:

a. Potentially a time-saver in the long run: If cages are constructed to provide adequate tree protection, they can save a significant amount of time in the long run by eliminating the need to set up additional temporary fencing every time livestock are moved.

b. Effective at protecting trees from sheep damage: Even trees in relatively weak cages should not need additional protection from sheep. DCF has not needed to fence sheep out of the rows of tree cages.

c. Resourceful: After the trees have grown and the cages are no longer needed, T-posts can be reused for various purposes on a farm.

Fencing with Electric Wire

Next, DCF decided to protect its trees by using a single line of electric wire to fence cattle out of tree cage rows in paddocks being actively grazed. DCF currently sets up electric wire around tree cage rows and connects it to an electrified cattle fence running along the edges of its pasture, essentially blocking off the cattle from thin strips of pasture where the trees are located in each paddock.

Weaknesses with this method include:

a. Time-consuming: A significant amount of time is added to moving cattle to each new paddock, as 1-3 rows of trees may be need to be fenced off in any given paddock of the farm.

b. Wasteful of some areas of pasture: Since cattle cannot graze the forage within the tree rows that are fenced off, this pasture is essentially wasted and requires additional mowing. Sometimes when DCF staff prepares to move the cattle to a new paddock, it first opens up the tree rows, allowing the cattle to briefly graze forage there before moving on.

c. Slightly costly: This method requires DCF to have a relatively large number of posts and reels of electric wire.

Strengths with this method include:

a. Effective at protecting the trees in combination with the tree cages: No trees have died since DCF started using this method. Although a single line of electric wire has proven ineffective at keeping calves out of the tree rows, the calves are more occupied with the untouched forage than the cages. The temporary fencing is vulnerable to occasionally falling slack if a post falls over, but in these instances the tree cages have provided adequate protection until the fencing is set back up.

Tree Protection Moving Forward

Although the combination of temporary electric wire fencing and tree cages successfully protected DCF’s trees from livestock damage, the farm decided to consider other protection methods that would save time in the long run. For a more permanent solution, DCF considered the following options and their respective weaknesses and strengths:

    • Electrifying each tree cage: Very effective protection, yet expensive and requires a relatively extensive underground wiring system.
    • Strengthening each tree cage with three additional T-posts (six total per cage): T-posts can be reused for other purposes in the future. Note: Dickinson tested this method by adding T-posts to one tree cage in a paddock, and not fencing it off with the other trees, and this method proved effective at protecting the tree from livestock damage.
    • Wrapping strands of barbed wire around each cage: Potential for similar effectiveness of protection as electricity, and a less time-consuming option. 
    • *Additional Note: After learning that wrapping barbed wire around the cages complied with the standards for Animal Welfare Approved, the project team decided to implement this method for protection. In October 2014, DCF tested a row of 5 tree cages to see whether barbed wire wrapped on the cages would provide adequate protection from cattle, without temporary electric wire fencing. Two strands of barbed wire were wrapped tightly around each individual cage, roughly at chest and waist height. After several days of grazing cattle in the paddock, these 5 trees were left undamaged. One of the cages, which had already been weakened before DCF started using electric wire, sustained additional, minor damage. The project team plans to test barbed wire on additional trees in DCF’s pasture. Currently, it seems that cages wrapped with barbed wire will adequately protect the trees from cattle damage.
    • Protection from Rodents, Browsers, and Competing Vegetation: To protect its trees from competing vegetation, DCF decided not to spray herbicides, but rather spread a thick mulch layer of wood chips around each tree. Moreover, the farm’s tree cages were spaced several inches from the ground, with the hope that any weeds that grew through the mulch could be cut back with weed wackers. However, the weeds could only be partially removed with weed wackers, since the cage sides were set several feet from the tree. Therefore, farm workers resorted to climbing inside the cages to cut tall weeds out with pruners, a somewhat time-consuming process. DCF realizes that climbing inside the cages will become more difficult with the addition of barbed wire.

      •  The trees that DCF received from Shictel’s Nursery were larger than mere saplings, at 1.5 inches in diameter. Thus, DCF did not need to protect the new trees from rodent and browser damage with tree tubes

Woodland Scenario: 

1. To establish an ideal wooded silvopasture system, the project team needed to remove some trees from the plot. A basal assessment, a process that examines the surface area of tree trunks 4.5 feet above the ground, revealed that the plot had a basal area of roughly 82%, exceeding the optimal 60% for growth of forage grasses. An arborist from Dickinson College, along with the project team and a service forester from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), conducted a mini-training at DCF’s woodlot in November 2013 to familiarize everyone with the methodology for removal selection. Eleven trees in total were marked for removal, based on factors such as overall tree quality and the spacing of trees throughout the plot. The selected trees were removed from the plot in the Winter of 2013, and are currently being used on the farm for firewood.

2. a. Soil Compaction and Moisture, 2013 - 2014  The cores were then composited and sent to Ag Analytic for soil quality analysis, revealing various facets of the woodlot’s soil, including that it featured a strong organic matter content of over 9%, and a pH of 5.9. Although the woodlot’s soil is somewhat more acidic than desired (considering that a pH of 6-7 is optimal for cattle pastures), slightly acidic soil is not unusual for forestland in Pennsylvania.        

b. Forage Quality  Although data collection was paused after 2014, the project team observed further increases of grass in 2015. Currently, a sizable portion of the woodlot’s forage is palatable for the cattle, but overall, the woodlot benefits the cattle primarily as an ideal location for shade rather than productive forage.

c. Botanical Composition Rocks, weeds, litter, and bare areas decreased in 2014 from the previous year, while the abundance of grass and legumes improved during this span. Specifically, grass increased from an average of 1% of the woodlot’s forage in 2013 to 9.4% in 2014, while legumes grew to roughly 5% of the woodlot’s forage in 2014 after being nearly absent in the previous year. However, forage samples revealed that weeds and litter still comprised approximately three-quarters of the forage in 2014. Overall, botanical composition in the woodlot has progressed over time from being dominated with chickweed to consisting of more desirable forage for Angus cattle.

  1. Soil Quality:  Measurements were collected from April to August 2013, and did not reveal significant trends.
  2. Monitoring Protocols and Data Collection: The project team faced several challenges with managing the forage within the woodlot area, which already had various invasive plants growing. Although the team hoped to use DCF’s cattle to graze down and/or stomp out the invasives, the cattle largely rejected these plants for food. Thus, spot herbicide treatments were used in the area, but the plot still has some undesirable vegetation growing among its forage.
Research conclusions:

As with many on-farm projects, practical application of technologies has required continued discussion and adaptive management on both demonstration farm sites. Based on observations made by the project team, adjustments were requested to be made in the management in regard to tree cages/protection at DCF and protecting sensitive areas at Wyebrook Farms.

The project financially supported the farms, with DCF being willing to make adaptations to replace protect the trees in open pasture as well as limit access in the wooded area. For Wyebrook Farms, the landowner was less willing to make changes to the woodlot area, so we were not been able to document tree/plant degradation, if any, or understory forage growth so there were some challenges. Although, it may have simply been a case of miscommunication, because a conversation with Dean at the end of the project determined that he would have been willing to collaborate on additional management needs and adaptations.

This was evidenced and documented during the development of case studies. We also discuss the practical challenges through the second video in the project series to inform viewers of the results/outcomes.

Based on actual visual results, some adjustments were made in the methods, without changing the project scope. For example, slight changes in the research and monitoring scope within the project work plan were made including less intensive monitoring work by ARS. Instead, ARS led the collaboration on study design and monitoring and the farm staff recorded their own results. This was an informative process for the development of case studies done through the project team and farmers directly. We also continued overall collaboration with the project team/partners, yet much of what was applied through the project was impacted by the farm manager, so we focused more on that aspect.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We completed several technical tours and field days to review project progress, reaching at least 100 practitioners and conservation field staff; produced a video introducing the project concept then a technical video that presented project results; published an article in Agroforestry as well as an article in Penn State Sustainable Ag News; and published/posted a project fact sheet as an outreach tool. We also developed a case study report and a practitioner’s guide (to be released at a later date), including lists of suitable tree and forage species as well as educational materials for farmers. The project team worked well together to actively observe, monitor and adapt management based on findings for the two demonstration farms as well.

See multiple project products posted along with this report. As described above, we completed several technical tours and field days to review project progress reaching at least 100 practitioners and conservation field staff; produced a video introducing the project concept then a technical video that presented project results; published an article in Agroforestry as well as an article in Penn State Sustainable Ag News; and published/posted a project fact sheet as an outreach tool. We also developed a case study report and a practitioner’s guide, including lists of suitable tree and forage species as well as educational materials for farmers. The project team worked well together to actively observe, monitor and adapt management based on findings for the two demonstration farms as well.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

See technical video for farmer adoption interviews including their impressions of the benefits and challenges they faced through the project. Each farm has intention of continuing to manage their farms with a whole farm approach. In terms of Wyebrook Farm, there are aspects of the project that did not get implemented because they were not in the original project plan, such as the fencing/eliminations of wet areas that resulted from tree removal activities. Dean Carlson continues to observe and adapt management based on livestock impact and will continue to be a premier land steward.; at DCF, the farm managers will continue to monitor both the pasture and wooded areas, to be sure that trees are protected and rotational grazing management is appropriate for the level of forage available to animals. Both farms indicate overall satisfaction with the project implementation and will remain part of a future partnership effort to demonstrate to other producers the results and lessons learned from this project.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

In terms of additional study, it would be interesting to have more standardized research on forage establishment in wooded areas for cool season grass species. In addition, more technical training for both conservation staff/technical service providers as well as farmers would be quite useful and would go toward transfer of applied knowledge within the grazing community. 

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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.