Cows in the Woods

Far from just cows in the woods; Silvopasture is the intensive integrated management of trees (forest products), forage (warm and cool season) and livestock production on a single parcel of land, at the same time. In this article we will focus our silvopastoral systems in conjunction with pine forest products grown in the southeastern U.S., specifically in south Alabama/Georgia and northern Florida, however silvopastoral systems can be implemented with other types of crop trees (pecans, walnut trees etc…).

In the southeast silvopastoral systems can be established either by planting loblolly, slash or longleaf pine trees in a particular arrangement in a pasture, or by thinning a stand of trees and planting a forage crop. Special tree arrangements in silvopastures allow for tree and forage growth, as well as for hay production and livestock grazing.


Establishment from a pasture

I have read many silvopastoral articles that site many different tree arrangements. I have my own arrangements that I prefer because it satisfies our specific area needs. Slash (Pinus elliotti) and longleaf (pinus palustris) pines are great species for silvopastural systems because their crowns are not as dense as loblolly and they provide more sunlight to the forest floor, which is necessary for livestock grazing. No matter which species you decide to plant, use only the best genetic stock. Slash and longleaf should be planted on row spacing ten or twelve feet apart, depending on the size of your ranch equipment (seeders, mowers, hay equipment etc…), and six feet in between trees. Seven rows should be planted with 50 foot alleyways (hay production and grazing areas) in between.

illustration1When it’s time for the first thinning a third row thinning should be implemented.   The two outside rows should be removed and the middle row. A selective thinning, favoring the best crop trees should be performed on the remaining rows. Once implemented the alleyways will increase to 70 feet and the crop trees (future sawtimber & poles) will occupy only 60 feet, with plenty of sunlight reaching the forest floor.

illustration2Loblolly has become my favorite tree to use in a silvopasture system, not just any improved variety, but there are new types of loblolly available, clones and/or mass control pollinated. By using these new type of seedlings you know what you are getting, the best of the best. These seedlings show great promise. These new loblolly have pruning capabilities, excellent form class (pole potential) and straightness that rivals slash and longleaf, in addition they have better growth and disease resistance than slash or longleaf.   Using a flex stand system (one row varietals and one row non-varietals), seedlings should be planted on row spacing 10 to 12 feet apart. Varietals should be planted ten feet between trees. Fill-in or trainer trees (non-varietal, a good genetic stock) should be planted five or six feet between trees. A total of nine rows should be planted, with the two outer rows as trainer rows; again 50 foot alleyways should be planned.illustration3

When it’s time for the first thinning all trainer rows should be removed leaving only the well space varietals (20’ between rows and 10’ between trees) for your future crop trees. Once implemented the alleyways will increase to 70 feet and the crop trees (future sawtimber & poles) will occupy 60 feet, with plenty of sunlight reaching the forest floor.illustration4

Livestock should be kept out of the planted pine areas until trees are at least 10’ in height, generally three to four years, depending on tree species and soil productivity. During this time alleyways can be used for hay production.


Establishment from a stand of existing trees

If you are implementing a silvopasture from an existing stand of trees, thin as if performing a third row thinning. Leave 4 rows of thinned pines and then cut out a 70 foot alleyway, repeat this process until the entire stand is thinned. As a rule, alleyways should be adjacent to all perimeter fences (established or planned).illustration5


Forages for Silvopasture

 Silvopasture grass species that will work best in south Georgia will be one of the Bahia grasses and ryegrass in winter. One of the improved Pensacola Bahia grasses will be best, Tifton-9 or TifQuik or UF Riata. They green up early and keep growing late in the fall. One of the hybrid Bermuda’s (Tift 85 or Russell) could be used, but won’t do quite as well and they are expensive to establish.

Ryegrass over-seeded into the Bahia grass stand will give some good winter and silvo2spring grazing. Ryegrass will give a longer time of grazing in the spring than other winter forages. Also, it’s been noticed that ryegrass planted in trees will even provide forage a little longer into May and early June than where there are no trees. Of course if you want the most from your Bahia grass, graze or mow down the ryegrass when you want the Bahia to come out strong in the spring.

Cool season grasses may tolerate a higher tree density and still maintain their production levels. When seasonal rainfall quantity and distribution are less than optimal, forage production in silvopastures may be 10 to 15 percent less than open pastures. Bahia grass will tend to do much better under pines than Bermuda grass, as evidenced by the more recent observations at Americus, GA. However, I think the best silvopasture work is lightly stocked with cattle, and better use of co-grazing with goats,” says UGA scientist Dennis Hancock.

The best time to plant Bahia grass is in the early spring on upland soils or in late spring on low, moist soils. Plantings made later in the summer can be successful, but weed competition (primarily aggressive summer annual grasses, such as crabgrass, goosegrass, and crowsfootgrass) can be a problem. Dry weather can also slow Bahia grass establishment. Bahia grass can be successfully seeded in early fall in South Georgia, South Alabama and Northern Florida.

Bahia grass seed are small and should be planted shallow, no more than ¼ – to ½ inch deep. This will allow for quicker emergence and promote seedling vigor.

Bahia grass seed have variable germination rates. Some seeds germinate quickly after planting while others may not germinate until the following year. Generally, 50 to 60 percent of the seed will germinate within 30 days. TifQuik and possibly the new Riata are exceptions, as most of their seed will germinate readily within one to two weeks after planting if soil conditions are favorable. Seed dormancy is much lower in some varieties, resulting in the need for higher seeding rates.


Planting Methods

 Bahia grass may be planted in several ways. No-till planting methods should be employed if there is a risk of soil erosion (e.g., sloping land). No-till establishment methods can result in an acceptable stand of Bahia grass, but often require high seeding rates and control of existing vegetation. It is critical that the existing stand/crop and any weeds are destroyed. Sometimes this requires two applications of a non-selective herbicide (four to six weeks apart).

If the risk of soil erosion is minimal, conventionally-tilled seedbed preparation can be used to establish Bahia grass. When conventional seedbed preparation and establishment techniques are employed, it is recommended that the “stale-seedbed” method be used. In this method, the first step is to destroy the existing vegetation by spraying with a non-selective herbicide. Next, recommended levels of lime and/or nutrients (based on soil test results) should be added so that they can be incorporated into the soil during the tillage phase. The land can then be tilled, disked, and packed. This also allows for any leveling or smoothing of the soil surface that may be necessary. The tillage and packing steps should be completed at least one month prior to planting so that the soil can settle/firm before planting. Properly packing and firming of the soil is necessary to prevent the seed from being planted too deeply. As a rule of thumb, footprints left in prepared soil that are approximately 1/4-inch deep indicate a firm seedbed. In addition to allowing the soil to become firm, this will allow many of the weeds in the disturbed soil to germinate and emerge. These weeds can then be destroyed using a non-selective herbicide within a few days of planting.

Once the seedbed is prepared, seed may be drilled into the soil or broadcast on top of the soil. When broadcasted, the seed must be covered with soil (no more than ¼ – to ½ -inch deep) with either a light disking or a cultipacker Seeding and cultipacking at the same time using a cultipacker-seeder (e.g., Brillion seeder) also works quite well. Seed can be more precisely placed into the seedbed when drilled. However, the small seedbox attachment must be used to plant Bahia grass because the seed are too small to be accurately measured in the grain drill seed cups.


Seeding Rates

 Seeding rates vary with variety and planting method. When using a Pensacola-type variety, the seeding rate should be 12 to 15 pounds of seeds per acre when the seeds are drilled into a prepared seedbed. When broadcasting seed onto a prepared seedbed or using no-till methods, increase the seeding rate of Pensacola-type varieties to 18 to 20 pounds per acre.

Tifton-9, TifQuik and UF Riata have much better seedling vigor than other Pensacola-type varieties and lower seeding rates can be used for these varieties. As a result, the seeding rate for Tifton-9 and TifQuik is 8 to 10 pounds per acre on prepared seedbeds and 12 to 15 pounds per acre when broadcasting or planting with a no-till drill.

 Mack Evans (pictured right) has been practicing silvopasture for many years. silvo3Mack has used the Tifton-9 and TifQuik in the past. He also recommends over-seeding in the winter with ryegrass, crimson clover and radish. The clover is a nitrogen fixing legume; the radish produces a long thick root system, when the dead root dries out and decays it acts as a soil-aerator.


Fertility at Establishment

 Prior to planting, apply any needed lime, P, or K (according to soil test recommendations). Avoid applying N before or at planting, as this may increase annual grass emergence before Bahia grass. Apply 35 to 50 pounds of N per acre after the seedlings emerge and start to grow. With early planting dates, a second application of 50 to 75 pounds of N per acre in early- to mid-summer may be necessary to promote rapid coverage.

Link to More Bahia establishment info

Bermuda Establishment link


Annual Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)

Annual ryegrass (commonly referred to as simply “ryegrass” in Georgia) is a silvo4well-adapted winter annual that can be planted in prepared seedbeds or overseeded onto perennial grass sods for late winter and spring grazing. Some newer varieties may even provide some late fall grazing if planted early and/or into a prepared seedbed. Ryegrass is also often seeded in mixtures with a small grain and/or clover. It is a prolific seed producer and will reseed in pastures (if allowed to go to seed). Ryegrass has a later grazing season than the small grains and can be grazed until early May in South Georgia and late May or early June in north Georgia when moisture is adequate.

Ryegrass is one of the highest quality forages that can be grown in Georgia, often providing more than 70 percent total digestible Nutrients (TDN) and 18 percent crude protein (CP) if grazed in the late vegetative stage. High quality (56 to 64 percent TDN and 10 to 16 percent CP) can also be expected in the early stages of seed-head development. However, quality and palatability of late season forage can be low due to disease (mainly rust) and maturity.

It is also commonly planted into dormant pastures or hayfields. This is a recommended practice, but the ryegrass should be mowed, cut for hay, or grazed before the summer perennial grass comes out of dormancy. Ryegrass harvesting could be timed (usually late March in South Georgia and late April in north Georgia) to prevent it from suppressing the spring emergence of your perennial grass.

Much of the above taken from and more information can be found at UGA Forages.


Rotationally Grazing Livestock

 No matter which grazing species you choose to manage, a rotational grazing system is a must. Five to twelve grazing units depending on stocking rates and soil productivity will be necessary to effectively manage a silvopastoral system. Short rotational grazing periods followed by long recovery/rest periods are important to the overall health of the forage, and inevitably the herd. Do not use fixed grazing time schedules.   Short-term over-grazing needs will have long-term forage production consequences, ultimately decreasing long term revenues. It is important to match the rotational grazing time to forage production. Carefully observe the forage to maintain sufficient leaf area for photosynthesis, and rotate the animals to a new grazing unit before regrowth of grazed forage develops. Forage quality diminishes with increased maturity; therefore it is imperative to plan the entire silvopastoral system around the forage program to maximize forage quality at its peak, ultimately benefiting the entire herd.


 Silvopasture involves the combined knowledge of timber, forage, and livestock production integrated simultaneously on a single tract. It can be an attractive management alternative, merging short-term annual cash flows from forage and livestock production with long-term, periodic income from timber sales. This is certainly not a complete guide to silvopasture, and silvopasture is not for everyone. Silvopasture is an active investment approach, as opposed to a passive investment approach, it involves an intensive management system designed to combine short and long term revenue streams. If you need additional information regarding silvopasture, contact Alan Emmons with Southern Forestry Consultants, or Rome Ethredge, Seminole County, Georgia Extension Agent.

alanAlan W. Emmons is Partner and Treasurer of Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc., a Certified Forester with the Society of American Foresters, a Georgia Registered Forester and Certified Burner in Georgia and Florida.   Alan is also an active Realtor, and partner in Southern Forestry Realty.   A 1985 graduate of North Carolina State University, he has 30 years of extensive forestry experience, up and down the east coast of the United States. You can contact Alan at (229) 220-1790 or


romeRome Ethredge is a University of Georgia Extension agent in Seminole County, Georgia. He has been working in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences for more than 30 years.  He’s a graduate of ABAC and University of Georgia with B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agronomy. Contact your local county agent or if in Seminole county at Seminole County Extension  229-524-2326 or

Pine Bark Beetles, Menacing As Ever

Pine bark beetles attack forests and stands of trees, which are stressed or appear to the beetles to be stressed. Mother Nature naturally thins our forest in many ways: wind, fire, flood, drought, insects (bark beetles) etc… In nature when trees begin to compete with each other for sunlight, water, and nutrients the trees become stressed and begin to die off. When the weak trees in a stand become stressed and begin to die, they emit an odor to which bark beetles key on and are attracted. Bark beetles flock to the unhealthy stand, and begin their relentless attack on the stressed and dying trees. Once the assault begins, many times healthy as well as unhealthy trees are attacked.

There are three types of pine bark beetles that attack live trees, Southern Pine Beetles (Dendroctonus frontalis), four species of Ips Beetles (Ips grandicollis, I. calligraphus, I. avulus, and I.pini ) and Black Turpentine Beetles (Dendroctonus terebrans).

Southern Pine Beetle (SPB) is the most destructive of the three types. There may be up to six generations of beetles per year. Adult SPB bore directly into the bark and mate. The females excavate the characteristic S-shaped egg galleries in the inner bark. Adults and larvae alike girdle trees quickly as they completely encircle the tree. The tree’s death is hastened by the introduction of blue-stain fungi which blocks the flow of nutrients and water to the crown of the tree. The pattern of movement is a key indicator when identifying this beetle, this movement across entire stands in short periods of time is what makes this beetle so devastating.

Ips Beetles are very similar in nature to Southern Pine Beetles. The adults and larvae completely girdle/encircle the inner bark of the trees, and with the aid of blue-stain fungi cut off the continued supply of nutrients and water, trees need for survival. Most of the time Ips beetles attack trees individually or in small groups, searching for weak trees throughout the stand. They move from one spot to another (this movement is an identifying characteristic pattern), but under favorable conditions can become epidemic and can devastate a stand.

Black Turpentine Beetles are the largest major bark beetle in our southern forests. These beetles create characteristically large pitch tubes which extend no higher than eight feet above the ground. There are usually only two full generations per year. This beetle does not introduce blue-stained fungi into the tree. The larvae feed in patches instead of completely girdling the inner bark of the tree, like Ips and Southern Pine Beetles. If the beetles are identified early, they can be treated with a chemical and in many cases the trees can be saved.

There is no way to prevent pine bark beetles from attacking our forests; however you can reduce the risk of attacks to stands of trees by ensuring they remain healthy. Good forest management, such as thinning at the proper times and densities, an effective prescribed burning program, fertilizing nutrient deficient stands, and removing or treating storm damaged trees promptly can keep your forest healthy and growing rapidly. If you suspect pine bark beetles in your stand, call your Southern Forestry Consultants, Inc. representative today and set up an inspection ASAP. Our foresters and biologists can help you identify and control these destructive insects.

Timber Basis, Who Needs One?

According to the official dictionary of Forestry and several of my university professors (no offense intended), a basis is the set of nonzero valued decision variables in a mathematical programming solution and the values of the reduced costs and dual prices associated Blah! Blah! Blah! and on and on and on! Hopefully, you’re still with me.

Now that I have given you a taste of what I went through in college, let me give you the simplified version of what a timber basis is and why you need one.

A timber basis is the appraised value of the timber at the time it changes ownership. It is the baseline value of your timber. When you purchase or inherit property (timber, according to the IRS code, is real property) you pay the state and federal income taxes on that property, and therefore are not subject to pay income taxes on it again, if you have established an acceptable timber basis (pay attention to the operative terms). A basis allows you to offset your long-term (12 months or more) capital gain by your baseline value.

Simplified Version – it may get you out of paying taxes, again.
Example: If your timber was worth $25,000 (timber basis) the day you took ownership and five years later you sold that timber or a portion of it for $35,000 your gain is $10,000, remember you are subject to taxes on only the gain if you have an acceptable timber basis. If you are in the 15% federal capital gains tax bracket then you would only pay $1,500 in federal income taxes, with a savings of $3,750. You will have used your timber basis and it will effectively drop to zero. If you had not established an acceptable timber basis your tax burden would have been $5,250 on the entire $35,000. Remember! You already paid the income taxes on this property the day you took ownership, why pay it again?

So what do you do if you have not established a timber basis? Have one established, there’s no time like the present. Delaying establishment of a timber basis can complicate the process, so don’t wait until the last minute, as appraisals, especially discounted ones take time. The timber will have to be appraised (cruised, researched and valued) and then discounted to the year in which you took ownership. Timber basis save you money in the long-run. If you have any questions contact your local SFC representative. He can answer your questions and help get you started.

Prescribed Burning – A Truly American Tradition

Fires are a part of our past that should be embraced. Before European contact with Native Americans, the indigenous people of the southeast were horticulturists (farmers). They grew maize (corn), squash, beans, sunflowers and pumpkins. By the beginning of the 16th century, Indians had cleared millions of acres for crops and set fires to hundreds of millions of acres annually to improve habitat for game, facilitate travel, reduce insects, pests and vermin, eliminate cover for potential enemies, enhance conditions for berry production, drive game, and for other purposes that improved their overall lives. Extensive areas of forestland in North America, particularly in the South were open and park-like due to Native American Indian caused fires. Early settlers talked of the ease of riding a horse or maneuvering a carriage under the forest canopy and recounted the practice of frequent Indian burning. Our native longleaf pine ecosystems consisting of warm season grasses, gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers and a vast array of other open canopy species all thrived under native people’s propensity to regularly burn the understory of our southern forests (MacCleery 1994).

So you see, as prescribed burning season approaches, it is part of the history of America to renew our forests annually in our time honored tradition of burning the understory of our forests, through controlled fire.

In today’s modern world, there are two types of prescribed burns: Site preparation burning for reforestation, and woods or understory burning.

Site preparation burning is generally performed after a final timber harvest and as part of the reforestation activities. The objective of this burn, which is normally performed in the fall, is to get the fire as hot as possible in order to reduce logging slash and debris. This type of fire exposes bare mineral soil, thereby making it easier to plant seedlings for a new forest.

Depending on the primary objective, woods or understory burning (more readily known as prescribed burning) is performed beginning in the winter months and extends into the early summer months. Prescribed fire can benefit a forest on many levels. It protects the crop trees from devastating wildfires by reducing fuel loads, and recycles the nutrients from these fuels back to the soil. Performed and timed correctly, these nutrient influxes can produce results similar to a light fertilizer application. Fire also sets back the natural succession of a stand by controlling unwanted hardwood competition that competes with the crop trees for sunlight, nutrients, and water. A proper fire regime maintains high quality understory herbaceous vegetation, making the stand attractive to many species of wildlife. Fire promotes more palatable legumes and forbs; many of which are high in essential nutrients, and in some cases promotes wiregrass and other native warm season grasses that are aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to many native wildlife species. Prescribed burning on a continuous and balanced rotation also increases beneficial insect populations that are utilized as a food source by wildlife, while decreasing detrimental parasite and disease-causing organism populations. A consistent fire regime implemented over a period of years, can reduce future reforestation costs. Light prescribed burns can improve stand access for hunting and other recreational uses, and create a more appealing, park-like appearance. Research indicates that managed tracts receive higher land and timber prices than those that are unmanaged. When you consider all the benefits it provides, prescribed fire is an incredibly cost-effective and powerful management tool.

The Native American Indians were on to something! With all these benefits, how could prescribed burning not be a major part of your overall natural resource management planning?