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What’s the best way to raise cows sustainably? Set them free | Environment

B.Rhett Chezzoy and his wife Maria live on a 300-acre farm in Watkins Glen, a small town along the Finger Lakes. new yorkwhich has 100 cows, mostly Black Angus, with a few White Galloways scattered throughout the herd.

Angus Glen Farm has lush meadows and woodland, with tall grasses, shrubs and clover-strewn seas of black walnut and black locust trees reaching skywards. As Chedzoy, 54, walks through the pasture at sunset, the cows look up and follow him, waiting patiently at the gate. As he pulled it aside, the cows rushed into the woods to nibble on tree branches and shrubs, then turned their attention to the emerald grass around the trees.

Here, as you might guess, cows live not only in pastures, but also in forests.

“It’s fun to watch them for the first five minutes when they move to a new paddock because they walk up and take a sip of this or that,” says an agroforestry educator. said one Chedzoi. At the Cornell Cooperative Extension. “They quickly figured out that it was good for me and this was not good for me, and they are self-medicating.”

Aberdeen Angus cattle graze on Angus Glen Farm in Watkins Glen in upstate New York. Photo: Heather Ainsworth

This is an old farming method called silvopasture, where cattle eat a variety of plants in thinned forests planted with grass and shrubs, or in meadows with widely spaced trees.

Considered greener and less emissions than most other forms of cattle production, silvopasture is grown in Canada, Brazil, mediterranean sea. And now, through some of Chedzoy’s work, in the United States as well.

Chedzoi first learned about Silvopasture while serving in the Argentine Peace Corps in the early 1990s. Beef is the staple food there, but cattle are also used to provide an important fire protection service by grazing potential fuel within the forest.

“It opened my heart,” Chedzoi said.

When he returned to New York and moved to the low-quality farmland his father had purchased years earlier, he and Maria wanted to take advantage of the land. Unsatisfied with the quality and price of beef sold in supermarkets, he started his business in 2003 with just his two cows and their calves. As the herd grew, they ran out of space on the old dairy farm they used to house the cows during the winter. The solution was to grow it with Silvopasture instead.

Rather than building a separate barn, he began using the forest as a natural shelter for the cows to protect them from the wind and snow in winter and the heat of the summer sun. Not only will you save money by doing so, found Cows need less energy to regulate their body temperature, so they reach their target weight faster than cows in direct sunlight.

Chezoi comforts a newborn calf on her farm in Watkins Glen.
Chezoi comforts a newborn calf on her farm in Watkins Glen. Photo: Heather Ainsworth

Silvopasture has many other benefits for cattle, farmers and ecosystems.

Silvopasture gives cows a choice of where and what to eat, and it improves their health, says Carolini Tenfen de Souza, a postdoctoral researcher at the Brazilian Institute of Zoology, who specializes in cow behavior. It has said. Cows can stay in the shade when they want, drink water when they want, and eat grass when they want. “If you don’t stress, your physiology will be better,” she says.

According to a 2017 study from the University of Missouri Agroforestry Center, silvopasture can also extend the grazing period, resulting in an earlier spring start and longer fall period compared to open pastures. . The study also found that during the hottest months of summer, forage grew better in Silbo pasture compared to open pasture.

“During drought, Silvo meadows are golden,” says Chedzoi. “No plants wither or burn out like a meadow without shade.”

Chedzoi says cows’ diet consists of grass, fodder and hay harvested in the summer, so they don’t need to supplement their feed with protein meals or additional roughage like many farmers do. And the fact that the cows are dispersed throughout the forest year-round rather than confined to barns during the winter means that cow manure does not contaminate local watersheds.

cow and calf
Silvopasture can also extend the grazing season, so it starts earlier in the spring and lasts longer in the fall compared to pastures. Photo: Heather Ainsworth

And many layers of biodiversity are possible in Silbo meadows compared to grasslands. They support a greater variety of birds, more pollinators, larger and more diverse mammals, and a much greater variety of plants with more diverse root systems.

However, careful management and daily crossing are also required as livestock can damage the tree by trampling the roots. This wear and tear can go unnoticed for years, and once the damage is visible, it can be too late to save the precious tree.

Although research is still in its early stages, Project drawdownSilvopasture, a leading organization promoting solutions to climate change, is touting Silvopasture as an agricultural solution to the climate crisis in the hope that uprooting plants can increase carbon sequestration. . extract carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesissinking it into the soil and retaining it in its own biomass.

Alix Contosta, an assistant research professor at the University of New Hampshire who focuses on the relationship between land use and climate, said her study found that carbon and nitrate levels in silver pastures compared to clearcut areas and treeless pastures. It has been shown to have low nitrogen oxide emissions. This means that cows raised on Silbo pastures have lower emissions. In addition, most Silvo pastures like Chedzoy do not need to grow and transport high-emission fertilizers and feeds to farms, further reducing their climate impact.

man with cow behind him
Brett Chedzoi: “We can grow more of what we need in our own backyards.” Photo: Heather Ainsworth

However, farmers often need assistance to get their Silvo grass up from the ground. Some experts say that while there is federal funding available to help farmers get started with Silvo Grass, it is often difficult to access due to bureaucratic paperwork and time-consuming application processes. points out.

Still, the technique is gaining popularity. Chedzoy has been encouraged by the growing popularity of his courses and trainings, and by young farmers following in his footsteps to help regenerate their land with agroforestry.

Catherine Calesto considers him a mentor. She is a young farmer who first encountered Silvopasture in Angus Glen. She now runs Backbone Farms in Trumansburg, New York. She, along with her husband Jamie, keeps a small herd of Chedzoy’s Black Angus and Red Devon. She said Chedzoi helped them set up farms and silbo pastures, answered questions about infrastructure and management, and lent her bulls before getting her own.

Over the past 20 years, Chedzoi has seen Silvopasture go from being largely unheard of in the region to being a much-discussed solution to climate change. He sees a future with hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland pastures in New York. “We can grow more of what we need in our own backyard,” he said. “Do it in a win-win way for the environment, animals, farms and even the community as a whole.” What’s the best way to raise cows sustainably? Set them free | Environment

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