Cleaning up the woods with beef power

I went to a silvopasture school put on by the extension service a few months ago. While there the property owner showed us a small area they were working on for a silvopasture test. She apologized that her prepared area wasn’t big enough but “it took so much work clearing” that she wasn’t able to do more with her available labor. Since she had cattle on her farm, I suggested that she bring her cows into her areas she wanted to clear. It would give them a day out of the sun, give them something to eat, and get all the undergrowth cleared out. Then she could simply do the chainsaw work on the trees she wanted to remove which wasn’t bad for her since her trees were pretty young and small.

Overgrown wooded area.
Here is a panoramic view of the area directly behind our wood boiler.

Behind our house we have about 5 acres of woods. Its one of the areas of the farm where we do not run our cows and the woods show it. Brambles, undergrowth, etc. clog up all the edges. A few weeks ago I was looking at this area and thinking I need to get this cleared. Boy, that sure is going to take a lot of work. Then my own advice hit me, let the cows do it.

Wooded area, overgrown.
This is further down the wooded area, behind the playground.

The above pictures are the before pictures, taken just minutes before we turned the cows in.

Cleared area in woods.
And the after pictures. The area directly behind the playground.
Cleared wooded area
You can see the wood boiler on the left.

The picture above is where the cows entered the woods when we moved them. You can see the before shot in the video below.

Cleared wooded area.
Panoramic view from the playground

We left the cows in the woods for about 4 days. They lost some body condition because we left them in an extra day to get them to clear all that they could. Leaving them that extra day didn’t do them any favors but did result in some additional small areas being better cleaned.

The cows really like being in the woods. The crash around, rub on trees, and generally behave like kindergarteners turned loose on the play ground as you can see in the video. We watered via water hoses dragged from individual houses and wired the electric fence with our normal temporary electric wiring. The only escapes we had were the normal escapes of young calves which walk right under the wire and go explore. We received a few distressed calls from neighbors that “we had cows out!” Once we determined that is was just calves, everything calmed down and no action was needed.

We are going to run another paddock of woods, then hit our back pasture for a few days. The back pasture isn’t part of our normal rotation and it’s a decent hike from the main pastures to the back pasture. Running the cows through the woods cleans things up plus it means that we have a  short walk to the back pasture. After the back pasture,  we’ll likely run one more paddock of woods and then move the cows back to their normal rotation in the main pasture. Next summer I’ll definitely do this again as the cows enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed having the cows behind their houses, and the woods look much better now.


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