Another tiny step in the permaculture conversion process...

Holly makes up the understory of most of the property. It is dark and cool underneath. Other than patches of ferns in low lying spots, nothing else grows. These areas offer no cover for wildlife nor food for the goats.

The creek flows through the area on the right side and there is a lot of more marshy spots. The holly doesn’t grow here and the understory is thick with saplings.

We have 40 rough acres here in Charles City. Over 30 of them are a somewhat older mix of hardwood that is predominantly sweet gum with a thick understory of holly.  In some places, the cover is so heavy that nothing grows below it. In other places, a thick growth of saplings race for the little available sunlight. There is a ton of work to do in these woods to reach our goal.

What we want to do is to create adequate silvopasture for sustainable livestock.  This is a relatively new term in livestock management. Wikipedia provides an accurate definition:  “Silvopasture integrates livestock, forage, and trees. Silvopasture (Latin, silva forest) is the practice of integrating trees, forage, and the grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way. It utilizes the principles of managed grazing, and it is one of several distinct forms of agroforestry.”

Goats clear understory vegetation in this slash pine silvopasture operation. Photo by Jim Robinson, NRCS, courtesy of USDA National Agroforestry Center.

Where most silvopasture operations are starting with carefully planted and spaced trees, our operation requires just the opposite – a dense forest that needs to be thinned so lots of things can grow below it.  Since our livestock is predominantly goats, this is perfect. They get to eat their way through the dense areas of sapling undergrowth and help us with the clearing process. In the wake of this, we’ll thin some of the older trees and most of the holly, opening up spaces in the canopy for sunlight to reach the forest floor. In these patches, we’ll plant native bushes and grasses that will sustain healthy ruminants and provide wildlife habitats. Tree stumps and some of the logs from the process will be inoculated with edible mushroom mycelium.

Trees we cut down twice a day to feed the goats. Meanwhile, we were already working on moving the fence line and giving them an additional acre of good woodland browse.

Last year, out of necessity and planning, we had our goats in a dense grazing/clearing pattern.  Every couple of months, we added another section for them to clear. When they had eaten what they could easily reach (some of the goats were clearing trees as high as 7 to 8 feet), we started the process of cutting down some of the younger trees with 1-3” diameters, so whole treetops were available for food. This served two purposes. It provided food and it created clearings.

With all of that activity, we have barely scratched the surface of what needs to be done for this project. But now it is spring/early summer and, at the moment, the goats are busy picking and choosing from 12 acres of pasture and saplings while we have been busy with planting gardens and working on landscaping. The woods will have to wait.

Some of those new gardens (zone 1 permaculture) are in areas accessible by our dogs, which is causing a whole new set of problems. If you are wondering what this has to do with silvopasture and the forest thinning project, there is a connection. Bear with me. We’ll get back to that shortly. We attempted to thwart the dog issue by putting up some electro-fence (unplugged) as a visual barrier. They simply chewed through it to get to the gardens. They peed, they romped, one even dug a massive hole under the stoop, burying plants with the dirt (and relocating some). How to fence them out of this little area has now become a priority.

Installation of the herb gardens and brick edging to keep the walkway clean.

Photo by Doodle from Ali Does It Herself instruction page. Link in the resources.

My daughter found a photo of what I think might be the perfect fit for this situation.  It is natural, attractive, and uses resources I readily have on hand. I decided to do a little scouting as I took my morning woodlands walk. The perfect spot jumped right out at me. It was last year’s goat clearing project. What’s was left in the wake of that activity was a large patch of mostly bare stalks in a now grassy area.  This became my fencing project area.

The goats cleared the leaves from these saplings last summer. Over time, some of those decayed and fell. Many of them were still upright, some were sprouting leaves at the tops. With the heavy leaf cover gone, vegetation is growing on the forest floor.

If a stalk snapped off when I grabbed it, it was discarded. If it was pliable, I cut it off with a lopper and piled it up with others. In just over an hour, I had a whole section cleared and a good pile to start the fence with.  I didn’t want to leave all the deadwood scattered on the forest floor as it would block plant growth and be a fire hazard. This area I was working in was prone to flooding and previous flood waters catching forest debris had already created a bit of natural damming. I used these indicators to pile up the debris from the clearing activity to help slow the flow of water through the area. When all was said and done, this little patch looked really nice. A thick bed of grass had already grown this spring. One small step in this permaculture journey, a process we will want to repeat many times to reach our goal.

Now, to build that fence. I’ll post pics and let you know if it works to deter the digging beasts.

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