Silvopastures are intensively managed tree-forage-livestock systems where trees are either planted into a pasture, or where forages are seeded beneath a thinned tree canopy. There are many environmental and economic benefits to silvopastures, including improving water quality and quantity, boosting biodiversity, providing wildlife habitat, more efficient nutrient cycling, increased aesthetic value and enhanced income stability by integrating long- and short-term revenue streams in the form of timber and livestock production. However, one of the most desirable aspects of silvopasture systems in the south is that they provide shade and shelter for livestock.
But do cows really need shade? Think about that question as you are standing in the sun wearing a black winter coat in the middle of July, and then answer. Currently, most of the shade on many farms is found near riparian areas, and we know from experience that unrestricted access to these areas can cause environmental damage. Fencing out streams removes the immediate cause of this environmental degradation, but also limits livestock access to shade and the cooling effect of water, which is especially important when their heat stress is aggravated by fescue toxicosis.
This is where silvopastures come in. When managed properly, silvopastures can provide nutritious forages and a comfortable environment for livestock, more efficient resource utilization, and improved environmental quality.
~Kelly Mercier, UK Forage Graduate Student