What advantages do trees offer to livestock systems?

Trees provide enormous benefits to animals, according to Lindsay Whistance, a senior breeding researcher at the Center for Biological Research.

It exposes the value of silvopasture for livestock systems.

See also: Defra paves the way for more agroforestry in England

1. Shelter

Trees buffer the landscape, raising soil temperatures in winter up to 6 ° C under the tree canopy, increasing sleeping comfort and feeding possibilities.

Rain and high wind speeds are more and more frequent and cold, rain and wind all lead to poorer animal welfare.

For example, for every 1 ° C drop below the lower critical temperature of a slaughter animal [temperature below which a resting animal must increase its metabolic rate to meet environmental demands for heat], there is a 2% increase in energy requirements.

Lambs have very few resources at birth, and without shelter they can lose up to 10 ° C of body heat during the first half hour of life.

2. Shadow

Conversely, in summer, areas under trees may be the only green parts of the field.

According to the Met Office forecast, by 2050, every other summer will be like the one we experienced in 2018 [the joint-hottest summer on record]

During heat stress, blood is withdrawn from non-vital systems such as the reproductive and digestive tracts to the skin to aid the cooling process.

Up to half of the blood in the digestive tract can be diverted, making the intestinal membrane very permeable to toxins and can lead to rumen acidosis.

Dairy cows without access to shade are also much more likely to contract mastitis, says Dr Whistance.

Other research shows that the quality of colostrum falls in cows facing heat stress late in gestation, and that their heifer calves have reduced milk yields during their first two lactations.

An alternative model of heat stress – the equivalent temperature index for cattle, which uses a wider range of parameters such as skin temperature.

This suggests that cattle start heat stress at 18 ° C, experience moderate heat stress at 20 ° C, severe heat stress at 25 ° C, and at 31 ° C are in a state of emergency.

3. Reduce stress

Social behavior is more consistent in sylvo-pastoral systems.

For example, social licking represents 78% of social interactions in forestry, against 48% in open pasture.

Social licking is beneficial because it reduces stress by lowering the heart rate.

Using trees to scrub old hair, fleece, dead skin, parasites such as ticks, and seeds that can get into the skin also lowers the heart rate. In addition, a healthy coat and skin are barriers to disease.

4. Food

The nutrition of tree leaves is very comparable to that of grasses and herbaceous plants in terms of fat, carbohydrate and protein content.

The mineral content of the graze can be high – willow is a very good source of zinc, for example.

The trees also contain condensed tannins, which promote the delivery of high-quality rumen-bypass protein to the small intestine, thereby reducing the amount of methane produced.

Leaves can be grazed directly or animals can graze cut branches before clearing (see “Palatability and Resilience of Native Species”).

The leaves can also be stored as fodder for trees, as hay or silage.

Palatability and resilience of native tree species

Palatability *

Tree species


aspen, willow


ash, rowan tree


Hazelnut, oak


Scots pine, juniper, holly


Birch, hawthorn





* 1 = most palatable. In wooded plains, aspen may belong to palatability class 3.
Source: Scottish Forestry

What is the sylvopasture?

Sylvopasture is the integration of trees with livestock which translates into direct economic and / or ecological gains for the agricultural system.

It includes forest pastures, wooded pastures, orchard pastures and individual trees, spaced or in rows, in areas grazed or cut for fodder.

This may involve different combinations of trees integrated into forage systems and combined with animal production, or livestock integrated into forested areas for the benefit of trees and animals.

Lindsay Whistance was speaking at Groundswell, which took place June 23-24 at Lannock Manor Farm, Hitchin, North Hertfordshire.

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