Make room for grazing
Jim Randall is one of those rare individuals who actually can see the forest through the trees. And if a tree does not fit into his overall farm plan, he cuts it down.
At first glance, you may question his love for the land. However, Randall says his actions are actually part of a conservation project that creates more pasture area in present woodlands.
Last year was rough on forage growth at Randall’s southwest Missouri farm. Drought conditions held on for much of the summer months and carried well over into the winter months.
However, during all of those dry days, the fourth-generation Hereford producer could see a glimmer of green in certain areas of the farm.
• Wooded areas can increase pastureland for cattle producers.
• Carefully select trees that provide cover for cattle and wildlife.
• Overseed the area with legumes and grasses for optimum growth.
“I noticed more grass growing amongst our trees,” he says. “It got me thinking. The shade from the trees and brush covering the ground created a natural environment that seemed to stimulate growth.” So, he took advantage of the mild winter and created more pastures using a practice known as silvopasture.
Selecting for success
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, silvopasture is an agroforestry practice where timber crops are introduced to enhance forage production, or forage crops are introduced to enhance timber production.Randall is improving forage production by reducing timber stands.
“Most of our land is sharply hilly, and a lot of it is woods,” he says. “For a long time, we’ve had to adapt our uses to that fact.”However, now he is able to trim back the trees and reveal more land for grazing.
Randall considers the trees on his Monett farm a “valuable resource for future generations and for wildlife.” In addition, he appreciates the natural shade they provide for both cattle and grass. Therefore, he does not clear entire fields. Rather, he uses a methodical approach to managing the tree clearing.
“We encourage the growth of desirable trees and discourage undesirable species,” he says. “We also encourage some trees for the benefit of wildlife.”
He says leaving trees that provide food for creatures of Barry County is important. As he maneuvers a Bobcat equipped with a tree shear, he is careful not to cut down trees like wild cherry, wild plum, persimmon, volunteer apple and peach. “These are good for wildlife,” he says.
And while he cares for the natural habitat, he wants to ensure optimum pasture growth for his own cattle. For this, he selects straight and healthy white oaks, walnut and hickory. “We are considering shortleaf pines as well,” he adds. Once the trees have been cleared, Randall starts planning his pasture.
Focus on forages
When making forage-crop selection, farmers should consider soil types, climate conditions and species compatibility.
Clovers or other pasture legumes can be seeded into grass pasture to provide nutritious food for livestock. These legumes also convert atmospheric nitrogen into an organic form, which both plants and animals can use.
The Missouri NRCS found that competition between trees and pasture can be reduced by selecting pasture plants that either grow at a different time of year than trees, or are more shallowly rooted.
For example, cool-season grasses, such as orchardgrass or timothy, and legumes, such as red clover, can be seeded into pine stands with little effect on growth of trees or plants.
Randall’s goal is to seed 20% warm-season grasses to 80% cool-season grasses. “We are believers in broadcasting small grains on warm-season pastures in late summer,” he says. “Crabgrass is our preference.”
The mixture allows his operation to come as close as possible to year-round pasturing.
Randall knows that grazing will need to be intensively managed. Success at silvopasture requires that he manage the timing and duration of grazing. “I really think this type of pasture management will work well, especially in drought years,” he adds.
Ultimately, Randall is looking at the benefit this system will offer the cattle.“Trees in a pasture provide shade,” he says. “It also serves as some type of shelter.”
The NRCS also found that trees provide evaporative cooling, reduce radiant heat loss at night and reduce wind speed. This buffered environment allows the animal to spare energy for growth, especially under hot Missouri summer conditions.
“We raise purebred Herefords because they are gentle, reluctant to challenge fencing and can thrive on forage that is not ideal,” he says.
Randall believes his cattle should see an increase in gain, milk yield and conception rate, like those reported for other cattle and sheep operations using silvopastures.
“The goal is to have the right balance of cattle numbers and pastures with the right forage, year-round, so that we can reduce feeding costs,” he adds. “It is a holistic approach to cattle production. And it starts with being a good steward of the land.”
EXTRA ACRES: Jim Randall (right) works with his family to clear trees on hill ground, providing extra forage and shade for cattle in the summer. Here he is with (from left) his son, Jim; Jim’s wife, Martha, holding grandson Jim; and granddaughter Hailee.
This article published in the April, 2012 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.