Stone Harvest Farm has joined this group.  We are planning a silvopasture project on 90 acres of forest in Central Mass.  Our livestock consists of goats and yaks.  We have many questions, and hope to find information on this site.

To start, we want our enterprise to be profitable and need to determine the number of animals that can be placed on silvopasture.  In the traditional pasture context, a rule of thumb is that one acre of good open pasture (timothy/orchard grass fix) will feed 1,200 lbs of animal(s)  in New England per year (assumes 7 months of grazing and 5 months winter conditions).  What is the rule of thumb for silvopasture?  In other words, how many pounds of animal can be put on an acre of "good" silvo pasture? 


We also formulated these questions -- which are other ways of trying to get to the same information for planning purposes:

what does it take to make good pasture in silvo areas - what amount (%) is trees?


what  N value (%)  does silvo pasture hold vs good regular pasture?


how many pounds of lime must be put on an acre of NE forest silvo pasture per year?


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Dear Maryanne:

I am glad to hear of your interest in silvopasture.  Silvopasture is fairly new to the NE, so this page will draw from the varied experiences of the members.  A couple resources to consider:  (1) on this site there are links in the blog to the presentations given at the Northeast Silvopasture Conference in early November in Watkins Glen, NY.  Some of those presentation will have information relevant to your questions.  (2)  We have a publication on "Silvopasturing in the Northeast - An Introduction" in the publications section of or via this direct link.

There is limited research into the amount of trees for good pasture.  Based on work from the University of MO Agroforestry Research Center, you likely want to end with about 50% canopy cover.  The values in the NE might be a bit different.  You will want to work with a knowledge forester in your area.  I believe there are foresters on this page who are in your area.  I am developing a woodlot on a Cornell research forest into silvopasture (see other links, blogs, pics and video on this site).  Most foresters don't think in terms of % canopy but rather in terms of "basal area," or the surface area of the cross sections of trees.  An unmanaged forest might have 100 to 130 sq ft of basal area per acre.  Over a couple cuts separated by several years, you will likely move the forest towards about 60 sq ft of basal area per acre.  The forester can use a spherical densiometer to measure canopy closure in the woods before and after cutting.  I hope to have a student investigate some correlations between basal area and canopy cover during the next year.

I hope this helps. I'm sure others will add to this discussion as well.


Maryanne, you were at the Silvopasture Conference in November, so you heard Dusty's now famous response to these types of questions: "It depends!".  I think that the annual carrying capacity of an acre of silvopasture could approach that of an acre of good quality open pasture depending on its "maturity" (level of development) and the relative density of the forest canopy.  More relative density = less understory growth.  Understory vegetation, especially if herbaceous plants and "sod" will take time to develop, especially when competing with tree roots - so don't expect a recently thinned silvopasture to be as productive as one that has been developing for a period of years through sound management - even if the relative density of the tree canopy is favorable. 

One of the Missouri presenters said that 50% relative density was a good target for favorable growth of the more shade-tolerant cool-season grasses like orchardgrass.  The background picture on this page which shows good cool-season grass growth under black locust in the spring has about 70 ft2 of basal area/acre.  I don't know how that translates to relative density, but would guess that it's a bit over 50%.  We need to do more work on developing guidelines for thinning in silvopastures and identifying shade-tolerant forages.

As far as liming, that would represent a significant investment/acre (at least $50/ton spread), so I would only consider it if the soil pH seemed too low for good grass and forb growth (below 6.0 might be the point at which you'd want to think about some lime). 

I want to add one quick thought about the transition to silvopasture. Use caution.

The temptation to develop and manage the pasture too intensely could be detrimental to the trees. Most trees in the Northeast prefer an acidic soil and have developed an ecosystem in the root rhizosphere of similarly adapted fungi, microbes, and biological and physical interactions. Any changes we make must be gradual and with respect to the tree root ecosystem in mind as well as the pasture.  Small incremental changes to the pH and light fertilizer applications may be tolerated but any disturbance or change should be gradual.

Adding pasture to a forest ecosystem is a radical change to the forest understory and similar to opening up the forest canopy, must be done slowly. Adding trees to a pasture at first seems completely different, but in reality similar parameters are in place. Protection from over-competition while the trees become established is not just the "planting period", but for several years. Trees are not only slow growing above ground, but the root and entire tree ecosystem is a slowly evolving process.

To build on Karl's words of caution, silvopasture development from the direction of converting an existing stand or plantation is a gradual process.  In most agronomic systems, we look for results within months.  In forestry systems we think in terms of decades.  Silvopasturing is a hybrid systems where the results are most likely going to take numerous years to achieve.  Abrupt changes in forest stands usually bring about numerous unintended negative consequences (thinning shock, windthrow, and an explosion of undesirable plants in the understory are some of the more visible examples).  Gradual thinning and transition is best, when feasible.  But the appropriate rate of development for any given silvopasture will very much depend on a case by case situation, depending on factors that include: budget, tree ages, tree species, site quality, grazing management, herd stocking, existing understory conditions and weather. 

Another important point to keep in mind is that when we abuse pastures or crops, we usually see the effects very quickly.  On the other hand, when we abuse trees, it may take years to see the effects - and once we do, it's usually too late. 

Our project is designed to improve tree quality, feed goats, and reap some other benefits.  Thank you very much for your comments.  Two thoughts spring to mind:  (1) What is the best way to evaluate whether the trees are ready for pasture to be added?  (If it matters, I could list the tree species) and (2) Does it make sense to plan for our goats to gobble up the "explosion of undesirable plants" and then after a year or two, turn in earnest to adding pasture?   

As the canopy is opened and the understory flush of growth develops, goats are an excellent mob mowing machine. I use the portable netting and size paddocks for 2-3 days access at most to reduce chance of damaging desirable trees.  Any younger trees identified as desirable future pasture trees should have some type of protection. These would be stems 2-3 inches (maybe even a little larger depending on species and the goats involved) in diameter that tend to have succulent bark and could be easily girdled .

Pasture grasses may begin to come in naturally, but broadcasting some seed after a couple of mob mowings should allow some of the grasses to begin to become established. This allows for a gradual transition from forest understory to a tree/ grass or "Savannah " ecosystem.   I would just broadcast some seed and allow frost or animals to poke it into the soil. I have had great success with frost seeding, usually before snowmelt has provided the best results.

Maryanne Reynolds said:

Our project is designed to improve tree quality, feed goats, and reap some other benefits.  Thank you very much for your comments.  Two thoughts spring to mind:  (1) What is the best way to evaluate whether the trees are ready for pasture to be added?  (If it matters, I could list the tree species) and (2) Does it make sense to plan for our goats to gobble up the "explosion of undesirable plants" and then after a year or two, turn in earnest to adding pasture?   

I also would like to get information for this type of project in New England. As most I have read is from the south and saying they only need hay minimally. This is not the case here in NH.
I would appreciate finding people near me, especially a forester and someone to set up my farm. I want people I can work with that are like minded. This is not a small project. This is a farm project with a lot of innovative projects I am doing.
First of all it is on about 6000 acres with more than 85% wooded. I want to do rotational grazing as well as this. I love the deer parks in England and what I wanted it based on.
To have a major meat production in new england is rare and with the diversity of animals as well. Add to this my niche dairy .Any help will be greatly appreciated. You can contact offline as well if you like. As I am looking for key people to care for the different groups of animals.

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