Just got back from the NH Graziers conference.

There was a brief mention of Honey Locust and how it was comparable to other forages or grain. Are there any good books/websites that get into what trees are appropriate for various livestock (in NE)?

I'm looking for a follow up to Tree Crops.

Also, has any research been done on how these types of tree-based forage effect cows/sheep? If corn is bad for them because it changes the stomach's pH what would honey locust do? Or apples? Or Chestnuts? And so on?

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I'm seriously interested in establishing grafted, thornless female honeylocust cultivars into some pastures I have begun working with.  There was a good but brief article in the Permaculture Activist a while back and the info I gathered was:  1) HL pods can be digested in entirety by sheep and goats but cattle waste the seeds out their back end (seeds are the source of protein so cattle only get the sugars).  Thus sheep and goats can self-harvest the pods, but to get full nutrition for cattle, pigs, or poultry you would need to put them through a hammermill or some sort of pulverizer.  2) HL has a less dense canopy than some tree species, so there is more dappled sunlight available under the full-grown trees to still grow decent pasture forages.  3) Extensive research was being conducted in the southeast US prior to WWII but with the rapid pursuit of synthetic fertilizers and the resulting cheap/abundant grain, that research was cut short.  I think a similar thing happened with mulberries as a forage crop (hogs, in GA i think).  There was/is also a study in France feeding HL pods to commercial sheep flocks, with promising results.  4)There are a number of cultivars still available and most of them have some nutritional analysis available on them.  I think that 'Millwood' was generally a better one of these and is the most commonly available cultivar.  Many of the named cultivars have higher sugar (carbs) content than wild HL and are truly thornless.

The only place I know of that sells grafted trees of 'Millwood' and 'Hershey' is Hidden Springs Nursery in TN.  There is a guy in NC I believe that has seriously focused on promoting HL.  I can't remember his name offhand but could dig it up if need be.  He said there is a possibility of graft incompatibility with 'Millwood' and northern wild seedling HL as a roostock, since 'Millwood' resulted from a southern ecotype or strain of HL.  So I guess to be safe you'd need to get seeds from 'Millwood' and then graft scions of it onto the seedlings.  Haven't gotten that far yet, but have easily sprouted wild HL seed.

Well worth exploring, if you ask me!

Following on Darren's response, I'm going to plant a few dozen improved HL this spring on our farm as a trial - if I can find them.  I checked Hidden Springs, but the grafted varieties require a deposit and probably a season+ of lead time.  My only real doubt with HL as a mast crop is the timing of the pod drop - would the majority of the pods be available to livestock before they become overly mature and lose too much nutritional value?   What little information I can find seems to suggest that feed value remains relatively high, even late into the winter.  I remember Charlie Feldhake from the ARS station in Beaver, WV saying that the "honey locust bug" became a serious pest problem when they planted too many HL together - I don't know if the pest exists in NY, but I think I'll mix up the planting just in case.  Another minor concern that I have is the potentially invasive nature of HL on some sites - probably not an issue in the humid Northeast, especially if good grazing pressure can be maintained.  But I've seen HL become a major invasive pest in Argentina, where it tends to form inpenetrable, thorny messes.

I've often thought about other suitable mast trees for colder northeastern climates - the options seem pretty limited beyond the native nut tree species (oaks, hickories, walnuts).  Standard apples and pears may work well if the variety drops before it becomes cold damaged.  Chestnuts would probably work well for pigs, but I can't see cattle eating the small nuts in and around the spiny hulls.  Kentucky Coffee Tree seems to grow well at least in Zone 5, but I'm a bit concerned about animals filling their guts on the rock-hard, marble-sized seeds from mature pods. 

Brett, you are right to be concerned about the prolificacy of HL.  It is important to keep in mind that seedlings from fruit of thornless varieties does not necessarily come out thornless.  It does seem to be a fairly dominant trait, especially since most nurseries selling thornless HL are simply buying seed of Gleditsia triancanthos 'Inermis' which from my findings seems to be a catchall for seedlings from any thornless HL.  Obviously this trait allows nurseries to sell thousands of seedling HL 'Inermis' without too much complaint of thorny individuals from customers down the line.  However, in a broadscale silvopasture application, you will be guaranteed to have some thorny individuals, and if you get lax and let them mature and produce seed, you will likely have increased percentages of thorny seedlings in your silvopasture.

Also, note that this species has separate male and female trees--another reason to graft if you want every tree possible to produce pods.  Otherwise, a cheaper way to get a lot of thornless HL on your place would be to buy these generic 'Inermis' HL seedlings from a place like Lawyer Nursery (or buy seed from Lawyer's Seed Division--HL is super easy to start--no need to stratify--just soak seeds in warm water for at least 24 hrs, then put in flats, pots, or straight into the ground.  They should come up within a month and they really get going fast!) and then plan on doing two culls--one for thorny individuals and later (7 yrs?) a cull for all but the few necessary males.

I've also heard that for some reason the top branches of HL are generally thornless and you can get a ladder, take some scionwood from the top branches of a tree and graft onto seedlings.  Apparently you get a full-blown thornless tree this way!  I guess the tissue has a sort of 'memory' of it's previous place in the tree and it just keeps growing that way.  The speed-up of fruit/seed production in other grafted trees (like getting fruit from a grafted apple in 2-3 yrs versus 7 yrs in a seedling) apparently results from this 'genetic memory' as well.  Interesting stuff.

Also please note that even though it is a legume, HL doesn't seem to have much N-fixation in its rhizosphere.  Bummer.

My understanding is that the pods are at peak nutrition when they fall.  I have gathered them and fed them to my sheep in the past.  Seems it takes a little getting used to--they had to sample them for a few days before eating whole pods.  I've tasted the pulp too--very sweet, almost like tamarind.

Timing seems to be pretty good--pod fall continues from early Nov through Dec in our area.  Good time for concentrates for laying on some fat!

And honestly, I don't think it's that big of a deal for cattle to pass the seeds--getting just carbs from them at that time of year would be good for building condition, right?  At least not worth having to trouble gathering and grinding them.

Oh, yeah and regarding other mast/concentrate trees, never forget about mulberries!  Berries have a lot of protein in them, fall steadily over the course of a month, and the leaves make great browse, at least for sheep.  Also, American persimmons were relished by our hogs and some of our sheep would take to licking them up off the pasture in the fall.  Seems our hogs fattened much more on a grove of persimmons than on a grove of oak/hickories--makes sense since the hull requires so much physical effort to crunch up versus persimmons are like baby food!

On a sidenote, I noticed our hogs just relished tulip poplar leaves, pretty much throughout the year.  Ate them like a salad, all I could carry in an armload!  Wish I had time to figure out the nutritional makeup of them. ..


I'm planting a little of everything this year. Mulberries, persimmons, apples, chestnuts, oak, hazelnut, walnut, black & honey locust. Various berries for the poultry.

We have lots of poplar, I'll have to try it out (pigs only summer/fall). We did give them summer beech prunings. I think they ate them but first they carried them in their mouths and ran around like Olympic athletes.

I had forgotten about giving the sheep conifer branches. They are enjoying it.


Darren Bender-Beauregard said:

...mulberries!

...American persimmons

....tulip poplar leaves

I've decided to try a living fence so maybe a thorny mess isn't so terrible? Black locust, honey locust, and willow for the cattle.

Hawthorn (a height issue) and maybe some of the others for the sheep and poultry.

I'm starting the honey locust from pods that were laying in a parking lot. My children thought I was going to get arrested for this!

Brett Chedzoy said:

But I've seen HL become a major invasive pest in Argentina, where it tends to form inpenetrable, thorny messes.

I thought they did require stratification?

I believe the top branches are thornless because they don't need protection from being browsed.

Darren Bender-Beauregard said:

HL is super easy to start--no need to stratify--just soak seeds in warm water for at least 24 hrs, then put in flats, pots, or straight into the ground.

I've also heard that for some reason the top branches of HL are generally thornless ...

Of all the possibilities, HL still seems to have the most going for it as a SP plantation tree - light foliage, edible mast, reasonably useful wood.  I can see the downside to most every other species, though a mix would undoubtedly be best.  I'll try direct-seeding a row of the Inermis HL this spring.  -- Brett

I'm also interested in using Honey Locust for free food for livestock.  I wonder if it's possible to graft honey locust onto black locust rootstock?  

Hopefully that would provide a best of both worlds scenario, nitrogen fixing capabilities of the black locust with the edible pods of the honey locust.  

Thomas, I'd not waste your time with that--they are very distant members of the same plant family (partly why HL doesn't fix much N and BLocust does), and from what I know about grafting trees, you need to use similar or same-species to get a compatible graft.  The HL guru I contacted Andrew Wilson is convinced that you even need similar genotypes within the species of HL for a strong, compatible graft union.  He grafted lots of 'Millwood' HL onto seedling HL from his area in the southeast and is concerned about reduced productivity of Millwood due to poor graft union.  He recommends to start seedlings of Millwood and then later graft them to Millwood to gain the thornless, productivity, and high sugar content that makes Millwood a good fodder cultivar.

All this said however, many stranger things that were not supposed to work have been done, so the left-brained part of me says "Go for it!" 

Brett, I am curious about details on the downside to all other species than thornless HL, especially for black locust.  I am in the beginning stages of planning some tree planting for our "wide and open" pastures that I want to provide some shade for.  I am really wanting to include black locust for its N fixing and excellent fodder value, but know enough from experience to be wary of the thorny suckers that will inevitably creep up everywhere.  Besides goats, severe mob grazing every year or wasteful bushhogging, is there any other way to deal with these nasty dudes?  I don't think the suckers would be a huge problem except for snagging the polywire every time I lay out paddocks.  And that is probably problem enough!

Anyway just wondering what you have discovered that could steer me clear of problem species for a practical silvopasture.  I've been considering including: mulberry, hickory, pecan, white oaks, HL, black locust, persimmon, eastern hazelnut, seedling apples and pears.  Mostly chosen for nutritious fodder for potential pigs or sheep in the future, but the light shade is primarily what I am after for the cattle.  Also the nutrient pumping (from subsoil), and soil amending from annual leaf drop/root shedding.  Considering the shrubby stuff to be an animal coppiced deal.  Got nothing specific worked out yet, just dreaming for next spring.

Brett Chedzoy said:

Of all the possibilities, HL still seems to have the most going for it as a SP plantation tree - light foliage, edible mast, reasonably useful wood.  I can see the downside to most every other species, though a mix would undoubtedly be best.  I'll try direct-seeding a row of the Inermis HL this spring.  -- Brett

I did direct sow and transplanted sprouted seeds this spring. I got a 90% germination rate sprouting inside but had very mixed success transplanting them. They were 4-8" tall when I transplanted. Some of the transplanting failures seemed do to location - either a bad spot or high animal traffic spot and they got stepped on. Overall, the direct sow was more successful.

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