Establishing Willow and Poplar Tree Fodder Blocks for Resilient Livestock Feed and Flood Mitigation in a Silvopasture Riparian Buffer

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,977.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Wellspring Forest Farm LLC
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Steve and Elizabeth Gabriel
Wellspring Forest Farm LLC


  • Additional Plants: trees
  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy, meat


  • Animal Production: feed management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, drought tolerance, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, riparian buffers

    Proposal summary:

    Tree fodder blocks are dense plantings of trees that provide a strategic reserve of feed for excessively dry, drought, or even overly wet conditions. Many species can be utilized, but Willow (Salix spp.) and Poplar (Populus spp.) are common staples. They are a well researched strategy for increasing the stock of reliable food sources for animals in climate and weather extremes, as woody plants and trees tend to be better adapted to these variable conditions of a changing climate. While growing, the trees will support water quality and mitigate negative effects from flooding in riparian areas (waterways) on the farm.  

    This project will test several establishment processes for willow and poplar to determine the costs and effectiveness on tree survival and growth. Local plant material will be compared with commercially available tree stock in three intensities of establishment that vary in the cost and labor inputs in terms of site prep, mulching, and deer protection. The results will help determine the costs and benefits of varying approaches to tree establishment specific to installing tree fodder blocks.

    Results will be shared via a published guidebook, field days on the farm in 2023 and 2024, and a webinar at the conclusion of the project. Lessons learned from the project will be applicable in many northeast farms, and can offer a template for success in other locations.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to answer two questions:

    1.What is the cost and benefit of producing tree plant material on the farm vs purchasing it in?

    2.What intensity of site preparation and tree protection is necessary for trees to thrive in a fodder block?


    1) Harvest local sources of willow and poplar varieties to propagate in an on-farm nursery.Compare costs and growth rates with cultivars available from commercial nurseries. 

    2) Prepare three planting blocks with varied intensities of site prep before planting. Install fencing and mulch strategies for each intensity.

    3) Monitor and measure percent survival, growth rates, herbivory damage, and presence of disease for each tree monthly for two growing seasons

    4) Compile data and report on costs in time and materials for establishing each combination of acquiring plants and site prep intensity

    5) Develop a guidebook summarizing the findings and recommendations for farmers who are installing tree fodder blocks. Share publicly via online webinar and field days in 2023 and 2024.

    The findings from this effort will provide other farmers with a better understanding of howdifferent potential outcomes from these strategies contribute to success of plantings and keep costs down, thereby, reducing their risk and making decisions easier.

    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.