Advancing on-farm understanding and application of silvopasture technologies in Pennsylvania
This project is developing case studies on two Pennsylvania farm demonstration sites highlighting technical considerations when establishing and implementing silvopasture in both an open pasture situation and a forest ecosystem. 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 silvopasture areas, but producers currently lack the information and decision support tools needed to implement the practices in the most effective manner possible. Our project addresses 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.
We will substantiate past research and deliver practical technical guidance, including lists of suitable tree and forage species as well as materials outlining important considerations during the process of establishing and maintaining silvopasture, ensuring greater success for those undertaking the practice. The project is actively observing, monitoring and recording data periodically for two farms currently establishing silvopasture systems and will develop specific technical and management guidelines based on their experiences.
Strategies to be employed through this project will address the lack of knowledge and technical
guidance regarding silvopasture systems by:
1. Utilizing the concepts of on-farm demonstration to connect practitioners, scientists, and technical advisors. This will be 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.
2. Collecting various data that explores and substantiates technical information for silvopasture systems. This will be done through USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), whose role will be to set up monitoring protocols and regularly collect samples as well as analyze results.
3. Creating networks and “communities of practice” between practitioners and technical advisors. We intend to build upon the grazing adviser approach in Pennsylvania through GLCI 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) will produce technical guidance documents to further support conservation field staff and producers in their efforts. We will 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).
In terms of sampling, the ARS will use 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 will be 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 will be taken on both farms at a depth of 8” once during the grazing season for soil chemical analysis (Ag nalytical Labs, University Park, PA). Biological activity will be 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 will be 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 will be taken within a fenced enclosure around several of the locust trees. We will also compare 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 intend to analyze the performance of various silvopasture forage species used on the demonstration farms in order to develop appropriate technical recommendations.
Forage yield and quality will be evaluated monthly by clippings taken from representative sites within the silvopasture areas. Forage samples will be 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 will be evaluated monthly by sorting 3 representative clipped forage samples and sorting the components to the species level. Each plant species will be bagged, dried at 55°C for 24 hours and weighed to quantify proportion of each species in the total sward.
Tree species selection is 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 will review 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).
If livestock are managed properly, any type of grazing animal can be incorporated into a silvopasture system. Trees provide evaporative cooling, reduce radiant heat loss at night, and reduce wind speed which can increase livestock performance. These buffered environmental conditions allow animals to spare energy for growth, particularly under hot conditions. Increased weight gain, milk yield, and conception rates have been reported for cattle or sheep grazing pastures with trees in warm environments (Chedzoy and Smallidge, 2011). In the winter, trees can cut the direct cold effect and reduce wind velocity. Well managed forage production provides improved nutrition for livestock growth and production. For the purpose of this project, we will maintain the existing livestock being utilized on both farms and collect data visually on animal performance and general health indicators.
Our goal for this project is to reach two major audiences – farmer practitioners and conservation professionals. As evidenced throughout the application, there are specific knowledge gaps in the existing information on Silvopasture in the Northeast that we intend to address. We will tailor the guidance to Pennsylvania as much as possible, and each of the project partners will have a defined role in outreach efforts.
The following methods for information sharing regarding the project results will be used:
1. Technical guidance documents: Project partners (ARS, NRCS, DCNR) will develop fact sheets and technical notes for dissemination to conservation professionals and producer groups, as well as to provide as handouts to participants of field days and workshops. In addition, NRCS technical specialists will develop a “job sheet” to be utilized for working with landowners under USDA Farm Bill Programs. The NRCS Silvopasture Establishment Practice Standard Code (381) in Pennsylvania provides general guidance, but the resulting job sheet will provide a necessary tool used to implement the practice on-farm.
2. Peer-reviewed journal articles: the results of the project will be summarized in an article written by ARS staff for journals such as Inside Agroforestry (USDA National Agroforestry Center) and Agroforestry Systems Journal.
3. Field days/workshops: the project team will organize and conduct one field day per year on each of the demonstration farms, focused on bringing together practitioners (farmers) and conservation professionals. Typical field days conducted include a pasture walk to visually connect the participants to the methods being employed as well as open discussion regarding “lessons learned” through the experiences of the farmer hosting the event. In addition, at the end of the project, we will conduct a regional hands-on workshop on each of the demonstration farms for producers interested in learning how to incorporate the practices on their operations.
4. Technical Tours: to further reach conservation professionals, we plan to incorporate a series of more formal technical tours on the two farms, which will be hosted at intervals throughout the project to point out the considerations and processes during the establishment of the silvopasture system. NRCS grazing specialists will lead the effort to schedule small groups to tour and learn about methods being used to work through the establishment process.
5. Websites and web-based learning: In order to be thorough about reaching the largest target audience possible, partners will publish project results in the form of material for website posting. This includes presentations (powerpoint and short video), technical notes, webcasts and articles. Websites to be used include agency partner websites, as well as the USDA Center for Agroforestry (http://nac.unl.edu/), the NE Pasture Consortium (http://grazingguide.net/), and the National/State GLCI websites (www.glci.org and www.paglci.org).
ACTIVITIES IN 2014
As with many on-farm projects, this research/partnership effort has been moving along well, but practical application of technologies has required continued discussion and adaptive management on both demonstration farm sites. Based on actual visual results, some adjustments are being made in the study methods, without changing the project scope. For example, slight changes in the research and monitoring scope within the project work plan are being made including less intensive monitoring work by ARS. Instead, ARS is leading collaboration on study design and monitoring training, then the farm staff is recording their own results. This will be more similar to development of case studies done through the project team and farmers directly. We will also look toward continuing overall collaboration with the project team/partners, yet much of what will be applied through the project is impacted by the farm manager. Therefore, we are working to reallocate project funds to additional farm costs as well as outreach through a short video series (YouTube) which will inform viewers about the project as well as document results and case study outcomes from the farmers’ perspectives, ensuring a substantive product for all partners involved. See below for additional impacts and outcomes from each farm site for this year.
Dickinson College Farm
Woodlot Impacts/outcomes: After conducting a basal assessment (including protocol training) with the project team and staff from the Bureau of Forestry, to identify trees for removal in the wooded section of the DCF silvopasture project, a local tree service company was hired to fell selected trees before the start of spring. In total, 11 trees were removed from the ½ acre plot. Once removed, the College Farm applied lime per recommendations from NRCS in anticipation of a fall seeding of a shade-tolerant pasture mix. In anticipation of the seeding, College Farm staff provided access for cattle to the wooded area for short periods of time to target disturbance on the undesirable vegetation. After two months of allowing minimal access to the area, it was determined that the understory vegetation remained too dense for a successful fall seeding to germinate.
After consulting with the Dickinson College arborist and staff from the DCNR Bureau of Forestry, the College arborist was enlisted for targeted herbicide application on invasive species that are proving to be challenging to control through grazing- mainly multiflora rose and honeysuckle. Herbicide was applied in late August 2014. It has been determined through consultations with project partners to delay seeding the area until the early spring to allow for the winter weather to kill most of the persistent vegetation in the wood lot area. Currently, the College Farm aims to broadcast a pasture seed mix in March/April 2015.
Pasture: During the 2014 growing season, the DCF site struggled to implement systems to minimize livestock access to trees planted in 2013. Staff used portable fencing to protect trees from farm animals. However, the combination of portable mesh fencing and the intensive grazing program managed at the College Farm required constant oversight and more staff time than originally anticipated. Often times, the portable mesh fencing would slack or collapse under snow, allowing cows and sheep easy access to the trees. As a result, the farm lost eight trees to animal damage in 2014.
During late fall 2014, DCF has started to implement a new system for protecting pasture planted trees using a technique gleaned at an educational field day hosted at the College Farm in June. The goal for 2015 is to enclose each individual tree (72 trees, in total) using fencing and T-posts. We are confident that this new system for ensuring tree protection will be effective and plan to use it in conjunction with a single hot wire for two lines of defense between livestock and trees.
*Please note: any costs associated with work performed to achieve the above outside of the grant may be included as matching costs.
Data Collection: Over the 2014 growing season, DCF designated one of its full-time seasonal staff to oversee data collection in our designated woodlot. Observations were conducted on a weekly basis and followed protocol established by ARS staff. All data collected was sent directly to our ARS liaison.
Outreach: On June 28th, 2014 the College Farm hosted an educational field day highlighting its silvopasture project. The field day was co-hosted by PA Women’s Agriculture Network (WAgN) and Women and Their Woods (WATW). Over twenty participants spent the morning on our farm learning about the overall goal of this project and strategies that we are using on our farm.
Pasture: Because the trees located in this demo site are more mature (larger caliper), there has been no activity needed to adapt management. Both the farm manager and the project team are observing for visual impacts, but the area has already been incorporated into the pasture rotation with no negative impact, so no comments are needed on this.
Woodlot Impacts/outcomes: During the 2014 growing season, yearlings have been provided access to the wooded site, hay was provided as a supplemental feed source (as well as to observe potential seeding from hay or excrement. The group of cows used the woods for shade and water and a group of goats (dairy breed, all wethers) had been housed there as well. The goats also received a little supplemental feed just to keep them acclimated to human contact. The farmer is also interested in having pigs in the woodlot at some point to utilized nuts (oak and hickory) and possibly for a tillage effect. Some Pennsylvania agencies and sectors of the public have a negative impression of grazing hogs. This has to do with some instances of hogs escaping and becoming feral and the perception that hogs negatively impact the soil with excessive rooting. We need to be conscious of these issues as we plan for the potential of having hogs in the woodlot.
The last activity listed above is one of the challenges we face in the project related to perception. Although the farm staff will monitor the areas to avoid excessive trampling and rooting impact, we realize there is a delicate balance between allowing for foraging/browsing and potentially unintended impact in the sensitive areas based on the amount of palatable forage and cover that is currently available. The livestock and their impact will be closely monitored and if the wet areas become impacted we will consider modifications. Plenty of evidence exists of the goats eating all of the plants present and the understory has been thinned over the past year. Additionally, no animal impact is evident on the bark of any of the marked trees and extensive worm action was documented in the topsoil throughout the woodlot. There was also evidence of animals crossing/utilizing the waterway, but the stream was running clear and banks were not impacted much.
Cross fencing: Dean would ideally like to make paddocks within the woodlot running east/west. Temporary fencing is currently difficult to use due to the irregularity of the land level (intermittent streams create uneven topography), the number of trees and slash left. Cross fencing would allow better management of woodlot by concentrating animals in sections; Dean is open to trying different types of fencing, but this could be cost-prohibitive.
The project team (NRCS Grazing Specialist, ARS researcher and DCNR Service Forester conducted an additional visit this summer to inventory and discuss potential wet soils/pockets within the woodlot. This is pointed out so we remain cognizant of the challenges we face; again, the project team and farm staff will monitor the areas to avoid excessive trampling and if the wet areas and stream banks are showing signs of excessive use, then the areas will need to be excluded.
We also developed/considered a plan for fencing within some of the sensitive areas as described above, but that decision has not been supported yet by the landowner.
We discussed bringing goats back to the area and letting them reside there throughout winter 2014. Dean has some shelters that could be moved to the area and supplement feed would still be provided. The goats will continue to work at stripping the bark during the winter and nipping leaf buds in the spring. This will be a tremendous help in taking care of all of the invasive regeneration that is occurring in the area from the hardwoods, spicebush, pokeweed and other plants that have sprouted up. We also discussed when feeding hay, to scatter it and feed on the ground to try to get some seeding from the chaff. Water is the main concern, but water consumption is greatly reduced in the winter, coupled with the fact that goats don’t congregate in water, therefore stream access would be acceptable and not lead to degradation.
March – May 2013: project partners meet to finalize the study design and begin to collect on-farm data for the project. We will assess the status of each operator’s silvopasture plots, both wooded and open, and supplement/refine their systems with the addition of trees in open pasture and assistance with clearing the wooded lots, where applicable.
*All items completed as outlined during spring 2013.
June – August 2013: Baseline Data collection to continue at each site. Forestry partners (DCNR, private contractor) will record existing tree species in terms of type and physical characteristics.
*All items completed as outlined; baseline data collected beginning in April 2013; protocol “training” 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. *This item completed as outlined.
March – May 2013: Incorporate grazing animals into established sample areas; sampling and observation activities continue.
*This item completed with slight modification: The farm operators had already incorporated minimum livestock activity within the demonstration areas. All information on timing and types of livestock beginning in March 2013 will be evaluated along with all monitoring data collected after the 2014 grazing season.
June – August 2014: Sampling and observation activities continue; first technical tour to take place on both farms. Dickinson student intern gathers available information such as literature review and references, data sets and other materials to present to partners for development of agency technical guidance.
*This item completed as outlined with some modification; the project team hosted a technical tour at DCF in early March 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 has 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. We have also begun development of a video series, with the first installment in draft format introducing viewers to the concept of silvopasture through a project introduction.
September – November 2014: First field day/pasture walk to take place at both farms; sampling and observation activities continue; project team meets to organize information and review project status.
*This item completed as outlined with slight modification: a “Women and Their Woods” workshop was conducted at DCF in late summer but there’s been 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 have been working to reallocate 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 has met (in-person and email) several times to review project status and discuss potential modifications.
March – May 2015: Sampling and observation activities continue; second technical tour to take place on both farms.
June – August 2015: Second field day/pasture walk to take place at both farms; sampling and observation activities continue; project team meets to organize information and review project status.
September – November 2015: Regional workshop to take place on both farms; summarization of all data and observation collected to finalize technical guidance materials.
March 1, 2016: Final project activities (technical information dissemination) and report provided.
Dickinson College Farm
553 Park Drive
Boiling Springs, PA 17007
Office Phone: 7172451969
Support Animal Scientist
3702 Curtin Road
University Par, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148653158
PA DCNR, Bureau of Forestry
William Penn Forest District
845 Park Rd.
Elverson, PA 19520
Office Phone: 6105829660
185 Franklin Farm Lane
Chambersburg, PA 17202
Office Phone: 7172648074
2120 Cornwall Road, Suite 4
Lebanon, PA 17042
Office Phone: 7172742597
Post-Doctoral Research Animal Scientist
3702 Curtin Road
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148653158
Research Animal Scientist
3702 Curtin Road
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148653158