The following paddock layout offers a useful way of integrating trees into a grazing enterprise on sloping country. The aim of this approach is to minimise the impacts on production during the establishment phase, while offering significant benefits to both landscape and livestock once stock are reintroduced.
Although shown here as a grid for illustration purposes, in a best case scenario the pattern is applied on a keyline cultivation layout, which offers extra water distribution benefits to the establishing trees. This particular example represents one of six paddocks, roughly equal in size on a small farm. A similar pattern can be adapted to a range of landscapes and different sized properties.
In short, the design incorporates a belt of trees which are planted across the top of the paddock, with water across the base. As seen in the image above, the paddock is divided into smaller cells by utilising temporary electric fencing, the width and quantity based on the desired number of grazing divisions on the property.
The temporary fence is run straight up and down the slope. Although perceived as an erosion risk by many at first, due to stock tracking up and down the slope, the short presence of animals and significant pasture rest & recovery offered by a time-controlled grazing approach means that this problem is largely avoided. On the contrary, significant benefits are offered by taking such an approach as outlined further down.
There are many options for electric fencing. The following end assembly of David Marsh’s is a simple and cheap option for permanent electric fencing and KiwiTech fencing is the most elegant version of temporary fencing I’ve come across, allowing rapid assembly and disassembly while on a quad bike.
Dick Richardson has practiced Holistic Management grazing for almost as long as anyone and was one of the people credited in the original Holistic Management Handbook when they were detailing the how to’s. Dick, who comes from South Africa, now manages Hanamino, the Carbon Cocky award winning property of Charlie Arnott near Boorowa.
A few years ago, he told me that he was going to the effort of moving troughs from the top of the paddocks to the bottom. His reasoning was that although he understood the thought process behind why someone would put the water at the top of a paddock (to get nutrient in the form of dung transported to the highest point), it goes against the animal’s instincts. If you watch the cattle when they enter a new paddock, the highest point is often the last place they will look for water, meaning they are wasting effort and getting stressed, all of which affects production. Placing water where they expect to find it can pay dividends.
There are many options for portable water, but once again you can’t go too far past the consummate professional David Marsh.
Through the Millennia, there has been a common behavioural pattern in the wild herd: the open meadow offers sustenance and hydration, while the wooded hills offer a sheltered camp with a wide view, important for the ever hunted.
By mimicking natural patterns, there are often advantages to be gained. Animal impact and pasture recovery offered by an Holistic Management grazing approach is a classic example. The age old pattern mentioned above, of drinking and feeding on the low ground and camping on the high ground is another which can be harnessed.
Gravity is one of entropy’s playing partners. The flowing path of water is the means by which the land is slowly eroded into the ocean. Life systems do their best to slow this process, and in the case of the herbivore, it sets gravity’s goal back a step or two.
Laden with a gut-full of food and water, the ruminant tramps up the hill seeking the afternoon shade. Arising after its rest, a parcel and a squirt of goodness are deposited on the ground, ensuring the ongoing health of the landscape below.
Although it’s on a smaller scale, the grazing strips running up and down the slope, with water at the base and woodland at the top, allow this timeless and fertility-renewing pattern to take place once again.
A reconnection of valley floor to hilltop is one of the processes which both Paul Newell and Peter Andrews consider important, and has been implemented for that reason by Soils For Life Case Study participant Martin Royds.
PLANTING DENSITY & LAYOUT
The chosen tree planting density is another aim to mimic successful natural processes, in this case the grassy woodlands which existed in abundance at the time of Euro settlement. By many early explorers’ accounts, both pasture and soil were in excellent condition at the time.
Inspirational tree-planting grazier John Weatherstone of Lyndfield Park, has an entire paddock of Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey Locust) planted in this exact spacing (trees @ 7m, rows @ 14m).
From a production perspective, this layout enables the trees to be separated from stock using a (semi) permanent electric fence, while the inter row can be cropped for the period of time that stock are excluded, making productive use of that land. When applied to sloping country, a keyline layout provides equidistant rows while also offering water harvesting benefits.
25 years after planting that paddock, John says, “It’s the best pasture on the property. Even if they didn’t produce any pods (the Honey Locust), if I could have every paddock planted out like that I would.”
This statement is a result of John observing that highly palatable C3 grasses can benefit greatly from the dappled shade provided by the Gleditsia, staying greener for longer into the summer. Studies in the Southern Tablelands have shown that native pasture can also increase production when provided with shade.
Couple the pasture benefits with the fact that the trees offer shade and shelter to stock, thereby reducing stress and increasing production potential, as well as the multiple benefits offered by Gledisia (see below) and you can start to understand John’s glowing endorsement.
In this example, Gleditsia triacanthos inermis (Thornless honey locust) makes up 3/4 of the stand, while appropriate indigenous woodland species the rest.
The honey locust can provide multiple livestock and landscape benefits. Examples from the Lyndfield Park Story include:
- Serve as a fire retardant
- Deep rooted and are drought tolerant
- Produce nutritious pods for stock fodder (up to 100km per mature tree per season. These pods have a nutritive value equal to oats grain or quality pasture and are produced with no extra costs once the trees are established)
- Produce foliage which is also palatable to stock
- Reduce the amount of water reaching the water table (thereby helping fight dry land salinity)
- Provides dappled shade (see background) which maintains lush pasture longer into the summer
- Suited to the open conditions of a woodland setting and allows pasture growth right up to the trunk
- Late to leaf out and early to drop, maximising winter sun to C3 grasses beneath
- Recycle nutrients (which had leached below the root zone of pasture plants, these are recycled back onto the soil surface through the foliage and pods)
- Slow the increase in soil acidity
- Produce timber (a dense hardwood with a number of uses)
- Produce excellent honey
- Enhance the view (it’s an attractive tree that is green in summer, turning gold in autumn)
- Cycle deep nutrients which are returned to the surface as leaf litter
A word of warning on Gleditsia triacanthos: Honey Locust are a listed noxious weed in Queensland and in a climate that is more favourable than the Southern Tablelands, there is significant woody weed potential. If planted from seed, they will usually develop sharp 25mm thorns which can go through tyres. To avoid this situation, and ensure that each tree produces a significant quantity of nutritious pods, trees should be budded with material from a heavy bearing thornless variety (see below). 1 in 10 should be a male tree to ensure good pod set.
By including a portion of appropriate indigenous woodland species, this offers long term benefits to native biodiversity, with the associated benefits to production. (To avoid further pollution of successful genetics, aim to source seed from the local winners of the region.)
If you’re interested in design assistance for your property, feel free to get in touch
Disclaimer: While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice. Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.
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Article and Images © Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2013