Land management is vital as it determines how satisfied one will be with the piece of land. For maximum production, there needs to be a good relationship between trees, livestock and forage. With forest grazing being a common practice across the globe, landowners need to come up with ways of ensuring that they are making the best from their forests while still ensuring that the forests stand. This is common practice in Utah and the experience gained by the local landowners can be borrowed and employed worldwide.
You see, trees form the basic component of a forest but they take decades to mature. It thus becomes unrealistic trying to realize economic return from the trees alone. On the other hand, livestock will provide yearly income and this comes in handy in offsetting huge costs that come with land management. Combining the two and modern forage production practices makes landownership rewarding and brings synergy thus more returns.
Livestock Forage Growing
It’s now common practice for most landowners to grow forage in their forests but how much do you know about this practice? Let’s dig deeper. With time, tress form a canopy and this canopy affects how dense the understory vegetation will be. Wide spaced stands create enough room for the nutrients, moisture and sunlight needed for forage growth. It also helps control diseases, pests and forest fires. Some of the techniques used in maintaining wide spread stands include;
Essentially, forest thinning involves the elimination of the weak and less vigorous trees allowing the more competitive trees to flourish. Forest thinning ranks among the most effective forest management practices as it allows more precipitation and light to reach ground forage. This not only benefits the forage but the trees too. With more light and precipitation, trees and forage grow faster and larger.
Engaging a professional in forest thinning is inevitable especially when dealing with a huge chunk of land. This is because it involves determining the proper or preferred tree species and the most suitable mix. Some trees are more dominant thus the need to ensure that the numbers are kept in check to guarantee the future productivity and health of the forest. Here is what you need to know about forest thinning;
- For the best forage growth, less than 50% canopy must be maintained as this is the only way of ensuring that the trees are getting sufficient sunlight throughout the day. remember that the intensity and direction of the sun will vary at different times of the day.
- The more the light the more the forage. This means that the more thinned the forests are the more forage there will be. However, thinning more than 50% shouldn’t be done at one time. such actions could result in wind throw damage. Consider the location, types of trees and climatic conditions before undertaking further thinning.
- Some tree species such as spruce fir shouldn’t be thinned by 30% or more at one time. They may therefore not form part of your grazing land. grazing may be confined to parks adjacent to the forest land.
- Be keen when thinning your forest. Forests on slopes exposed to direct sunlight tends to receive less precipitation and the available moisture is depleted by the scorching sunshine. Its therefore advisable that such forests aren’t thinned as the canopy aids in moisture retention that in turn supports forage growth.
In most forests, forage grows naturally and thinning may be all that is needed to boost the growth. Sometimes, it may be necessary to seed the forests with forbs and grasses. Doing this prevents weeding while improving forage cover. Normally, it is advisable that you seed using species that complete their growth cycle in spring. This ensures that the forage doesn’t compete for moisture with deeper rooted trees during the hot months as it will be ready for harvesting.
Forest seeding should be done at the right time and at the right places. Fall stands out as the best season to start your seeding activities. During fall, the soil temperatures are quite low and this delays seed germination. This way, the seeds will germinate early spring when the conditions are favorable.
It’s more economical to broadcast the seeds than drilling in thinned forests. Broadcast the seeds just before trees drop their leaves. This ensures that the seeds are are hidden below the leaves providing them excellent cover and protection from factors that may destroy them or hinder germination.
When considering seeding, research on the best seeds for the specific climatic conditions. Additionally, seed a mixture of species as this gives you numerous advantages over a single species. Mixed species increase production, resistance and prolong the growing season.
After thinning and seeding comes grazing. Forest grazing ought to be controlled to ensure that the forage is well managed and maintained. It is advisable that forests that have recently been seeded be given enough time not only for the forage to grow but also for the root system to develop. This may take two to three years depending on the species seeded.
Many landowners consider timing thinning and seeding with pasture rotations. Doing this gives the forage enough time to mature. If other forest grazing methods are in use, stocking rations are closely monitored on newly thinned forests to protect the forage. Experts however advise against such practices as they tend to make animals selective browsers and grazers which means that the most nutritious and desired forage species will be at risk. Intensive, deferred and rotational grazing allow more forage utilization and should be the preferred mode of grazing.
While thinking about forest grazing, do not forget that the forests are also used by wild animals. Always factor in the number of wild animals that depend on the forest for forage when determining the number of animals to keep. Aspen shoots are palatable to elk, sheep, dairy cattle and deer and uncontrolled grazing can hinder aspen regeneration. Young conifers on the other hand aren’t palatable but will be damaged if alternative forage isn’t available.
Forest Grazing Worries
Forest grazing can easily see you sustain your livestock all year round without major concerns. This only happens if the forests are managed and maintained to avoid the risks of losing the forage that is so important in dairy cows and general grazing. Forest grazing isn’t only a concern to the forage but also the trees. Overstocking or overfeeding can impede tree growth and regeneration.
Much as one may be looking forward to thick forage, seeding can adversely affect forest cover. the new species introduced result in increased competition for nutrients, moisture and sunlight and this may hinder growth of natural trees and understory. Over time, this may also affect water supply. Forests act as water reservoirs and overgrazing affects the water quantity flowing downstream and the effects can be catastrophic.
Forest grazing is one of the major forms of grazing and has been embraced across the continent. It helps feed different animal species and if managed can help you go through the tough dry months with ease. Ensure that there is adequate forage by thinning, seeding and practicing healthy animal grazing practices. This way, forests will flourish and so will your flock.