Silvopasture in Croatia
Silvopasture is the intentional combination of trees, forage plants and livestock together as an integrated, intensively-managed system. Silvopasture can provide profitable opportunities for softwood or hardwood timber growers, forest landowners, and livestock producers.
Silvopasture is the most commonly practiced form of agroforestry today, covering 1.1 billion acres worldwide. The theory is simple: Combine trees or woody shrubs and pasture grasses to foster greater livestock yields. What happens if you intensify the process? Add more animals, plant different types of trees, and rotate the herd more quickly? It seems counterintuitive that it could have a beneficial effect on land and climate, but it does.
Developed by ranchers, intensive silvopasture is practiced today on more than 500,000 acres in Australia, Colombia, and Mexico. Most systems use a quickly growing, edible, leguminous woody shrub: Leucaena leucocephala. Planted 4,000 per acre, it is intercropped with grasses and native trees. Trees keep the wind in check and improve water retention, which causes increases in biomass. Livestock move through rapid rotational grazing. Species biodiversity doubles, stocking rates nearly triple, and animals gain more weight.
Sound too good to be true? In a five-year study of intensive silvopasture in which trees were incorporated with grasses and Leucaena leucocephala, the rate of carbon sequestration was roughly three tons per acre, a high rate for any land use.
Farmers in Croatia will have the opportunity to see first hand a project which seeks to demonstrate the feasibility and profitability of combining trees, forage crops and livestock.
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES) at CCRES Research facility in
Lika-Senj County is managed by Zeljko Serdar. Additional funding over three years will be provided by the Agriculture Program of the CCRES.
Through new plantings and thinning of existing woodlands, CCRES will show three stages in the development of a silvopastoral system. Starting last year, 2016, trees were planted on an existing mature pasture. Tube shelters protect the trees from animal damage and improve growing conditions. In this silvopastoral system, pasture crops will provide short term income while tree crops of different rotation lengths will yield medium and long term returns. Nitrogen-fixing forage species, pasture fertilization and animal manure all help improve the soil and tree nutrition. Grazing controls competing brushy species and reduces fire hazard. Trees create a sheltered microclimate to protect animals from heat and cold. Shelter also improves forage quality and lengthens its growing season.
One visible effect of including trees in pastures is the shady haven which they provide for livestock on hot summer days. The benefits of providing protection from the hot rays of the summer sun are obvious. It easily follows that animals, which are unable to shelter from the direct sun during the heat of the day, will have to expend energy to deal with their discomfort and/or reduce their feeding activity. Their productivity should decline in proportion to the time spent under these unfavorable conditions. Increased livestock production during hot weather is promoted by CCRES as one of the benefits of having trees. However, there is very little published research available to either verify or disprove this widely held belief.
The prunings of some trees can also be used as fodder, e.g. poplar. The result is better livestock growth. Birds can use conifer trees as perches. From the tops of tree rows, they can easily survey the pasture alleys for insects, worms, and other food items.
Careful observation of animals behavior is necessary to detect and correct potential problems with browsing or rubbing of trees.
In summary, our experience is that silvopastures planted in rows are far superior for livestock production than are either grid or cluster plantings. Trees planted in rows with wide open spaces for pasture production between them, support high forage production and facilitate agricultural operations and animal herding. The large amount of edge created and maintained long into the timber rotation tends to maintain high biodiversity
Electric fencing or individual tree guards may be necessary to protect trees if animals are introduced when they are still small. Fencing is also used in rotational grazing methods to better control forage consumption.
Throughout the duration of the CCRES project at CCRES Research facility, Zeljko Serdar and others will monitor tree growth, crop and animal yields, fuel use and soil fertility. The practical results of the project will be shared with other farmers, both through on-site field days and educational displays at other meetings.
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES)