• Austin Unruh

3D Grazing

Have you ever been in a conversation where, though everyone is supposedly speaking the same language, you can’t understand a single thing that’s being said? Growing up, my family spoke fluent basketball. Post-ups, sky-hooks and back-door-cuts were all part of normal dinnertime conversation. My wife now spends those family dinnertimes smiling and nodding, wondering what in the world we’re all talking about. Though we speak the same language, we don’t all share the same lingo.

So let’s delve a bit into some terminology. At Crow & Berry, our focus is on applying silvopasture, a practice that while ancient is hardly practiced in North America today. In the process, we’re rethinking the best ways to use trees in pastures. All that means there’s a lot to learn in the years ahead, and a lot of words to learn to use together. Words like coppice and mast and living barns will come up often as we learn how to integrate trees into productive grazing operations.

Right now, I want to compare two terms I use quite a bit, namely silvopasture and 3D Grazing.

A standard definition of silvopasture goes as such: “Silvopasture is the intentional combination of trees, forage plants and livestock together as an integrated, intensively-managed system.” Silvopasture encompasses a broad range of practices, including thinning existing forests until they can support forages underneath, grazing cattle in pine plantations, or running hogs beneath cork oaks in the Spanish dehesa systems.

The potential applications of silvopasture are endless in their diversity, and at some point, you just can do it all and be halfway decent at anything. So while each one of those has their place in the right context, at Crow & Berry, our focus is on a particular subset of silvopasture, which we call 3D Grazing. 3D Grazing is the integration of trees into existing pastures with the goal of strengthening the current livestock enterprises through shade, shelter, fodder and nitrogen fixation.

Let’s break that down a bit:

- Integration of trees into existing pastures: While silvopasture can be created either through thinning existing stands of trees or by planting trees into open pasture, we choose to focus our attention on adding trees to open pastures. We do this for a couple reasons. One, it allows us to work from a clean slate, and choose exactly which trees, with which high-yielding genetics, will go where. Two, it’s what is most needed in our region, where a lot of farmers have wide-open pastures that would strongly benefit from additional trees. And lastly, because we are confident that by planting trees thoughtfully, we will be doing ecological good. Thinning existing forests can be done in a regenerative way, but ecological wins are much harder to guarantee.

- Strengthening the current livestock enterprises: When we talk about adding trees to a blank slate, we could go in endless directions. We could grow hybrid poplar and black locust for quick timber crops. We could grow thin-shelled walnuts for candy markets or blanket the farm with chestnuts. We could grow cider apples or sugar maples or pawpaws, or invest in long-lived timber like oak and hickory. While each of these is a possibility and could find a good home on your farm, they present one major barrier: Each requires adding an additional enterprise to the farm. Each new enterprise requires an investment of time and funds into marketing, harvest equipment, processing equipment or facilities, market analysis, etc. And most people find that, while growing new crops is exciting, they just don’t have the extra time in their days to do one more thing well. So we focus on helping farmer add trees that will make their current livestock enterprises more profitable, whether they raise dairy or beef or lamb or poultry or hogs or alpacas or water buffalo. If there are questions about tree crops, we are more than happy to share what we know, then pass folks on to groups that know much more than we about tree crops, like the Savanna Institute or Propagate Ventures.

- Shade, shelter, fodder and nitrogen fixation. This more or less sums up the key ways that trees are used to enhance livestock operations. There’s a lot to unpack here, which we’ll do some other time.

So if you’re a grazier who is serious about healthier livestock, drought resilience, higher yields and pushing the envelope of regenerative practices, 3D Grazing might be your next step.

Take Your Grazing Up a Level