Browse and tree fodder offer alternative nutrition sources for livestock

Agroforestry Innovation Networks have released information outlining the multiple benefits of providing livestock with access to browse and tree fodder.

Browse (i.e. fresh tree leaves and small branches) and tree fodder (preserved browse) are good sources of
nutrition and compare favourably with grasses grown in the same environment. Trees are also a good source of micronutrients including vitamins and particularly minerals.

Silvopasture produces more forage per unit area than pasture alone. With a varied diet, animals tend to eat more of everything, where more palatable plants act as a buffer. Browse can be highly palatable and summer growth offers a good additional feed source to pasture as well as being preserved as tree fodder for winter to feed animals.

AFINET says that:

  • Browse and tree fodder are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals
  • Browse and tree fodder are readily eaten by farm animals
  • Silvopasture is more productive than open pasture
  • Animals with nutritional deficiencies can seek out appropriate feed sources in a diverse environment

AFINET’s Lindsay Whistance writes, “Where animals have access to trees or hedgerows, they will readily browse indicating its attractiveness as a feed. Browse can range from 12-55 %, 20-76 % and 60-93 % for cattle, sheep and goats respectively. Goats tolerate high levels of browse in the diet due to their saliva that can bind tanninsand a large liver that effectively processes tannins.

“Although the gastrointestinal tract of cattle is well adapted to a grass diet, it does not inhibit efficient digestion of browse. Browse is accessible up to a height of 2m for cattle and 1.2m for sheep.

“Sourcing good protein for animal feed is a global issue. Crude and degradable protein levels in tree leaves, particularly in ash, lime and mulberry, compare well with levels found in alfalfa and ryegrass.”

Summarising the findings and recommendations for the Agricology website, Pen Rashbass writes:

  • Tree leaves and small branches often have high levels of protein (especially from ash, lime and mulberrry) – vitamins (e.g vitamin E) – and minerals (e.g selenium and zinc in willow)
  • Animals can self-regulate intake and those with nutritional deficiencies often seek out appropriate feed sources in a diverse environment. However, controlling intake (especially of dried fodder) may be necessary as excess minerals and high tannin levels can be toxic
  • Establishing silvopasture is a long-term investment and browsing is not recommended until trees are at least 3 years old
  • Controlled defoliation and sufficient time for regrowth is necessary as hard browsing can reduce a tree’s ability to regrow – the more palatable a species, the harder it will be browsed
  • The quality of management of both plants and animals is key to success

More information available here

Photo by Nikki Yoxall

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