What is silvopasture, why did we choose this method, and why does it matter to you? We are very fortunate to live only 30 minutes from Bret Chedzoy, one of the leading experts in silvopasture. For a good introduction to the concepts of silvopasture, check out Bret’s YouTube video.
Silvopasture is a method of grazing that utilizes forested areas to graze cows, pigs, or goats. The animals don’t stay in one place for too long to avoid damage to tree roots and erosion. At Red House Ranch we are developing 20 acres of forested land into 40 half-acre silvopasture paddocks. For our pig herd, the longest they will stay in a paddock is 12 days. Pigs are introduced into silvopasture paddocks when they weigh about 125 pounds. As they grow, the time they spend in each progressive paddock is reduced to avoid over-grazing, tree damage, and soil compaction. A 125 pound pig’s impact on the forest floor is not as fast or intense as a pig weighing upwards of 200 pounds. All paddocks get at least a year of rest before they are used again.
One of the many benefits of silvopasture is that we can take advantage of land that we ordinarily would not be able to use, except for a timber harvest every 20 years or so. In addition, silvopasture has benefits for the forest ecosystem. Short bursts of disruption by the hooves of cows or rooting from pigs stimulates plant diversity of the forest floor. Dormant seeds are exposed to light and moisture causing new grasses and plants to sprout. The presence of grazing animals in a forest also provides natural fertilizer for the trees and new plants that are growing.
Pigs also benefit from silvopasture with a more diverse diet of roots, plants, and bugs. They are omnivores after all, just like humans! This diversity greatly enhances the nutrient density of their diet and provides a more nutrient dense food for our customers. Lastly, pigs can get sunburned. Again, just like humans! Having pigs in the woods gives them access to as much shade as they need during the hottest parts of the year. Being outdoors gives pigs a diverse diet, constant exercise, sun and shade, which makes for healthier happy animals.
For further reading, The New York Times has a great comprehensive article examining the silvopasture method in-depth.