Back to the old ways — including a tree in a pasture

Trees disappeared from pastures when convenience replaced beauty. Now, however, agricultural researchers are finding that including a tree gives respite from increasing heat to pasturing animals. Yet another reason for adding more trees.

Farm shows the benefits of growing trees alongside livestock

At Dickinson College Farm in Pennsylvania, native trees are growing in cattle pastures.

Thursday, October 17, 2019
Cows clustered under tree
(Photo credit: Onderwijsgek / Wikimedia)

On hot summer days, the shade of a big tree can provide relief not only for people but also cows.

So as the climate warms, some farmers are growing trees in their pastures. The practice, called silvopasture, helps protect the animals from heat. It also helps slow global warming because trees store a lot of carbon.

Jenn Halpin is director of the Dickinson College farm in Pennsylvania, which serves as a demonstration site for silvopasture. Halpin says red oak, crabapple, and locust trees grow in the farm’s pastures.

She says the team chose native species that would not only provide shade but also food for the cows.

“The locusts shed pods,” she says. “The pods are a source of protein for the cattle.”

But protecting young trees from the livestock has been a challenge. The students and staff put electric netting around the trees, but it collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. They had to replace it with posts and wire.

But Halpin is happy the farm can serve as a living laboratory.

“I feel like a role that our college farm plays within our larger agricultural community is to be that site where we can trial and error without breaking the bank or the farm going under,” she says.

So by sharing lessons learned, she hopes to help other farmers reap the benefits of silvopasture.

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