Farming: How trees and cattle can be mutually beneficial

A NEW initiative to help Scottish livestock farmers fully realise the economic and environmental potential of their woodlands is being launched next week by Quality Meat Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland.

Seven new livestock and woodland focus farms have been selected in the Forestry Commission conservancy areas of Grampian, Argyll and Perthshire and South Scotland and each area will have a series of open days starting from next month.

The range of topics will be covered including integrated grazing and woodland and its shelter and fencing benefits, controlled grazing within woodland, timber and woodfuel production as well as landscaping and creating wildlife corridors.

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The initiative, which is being facilitated by SAC, will also look at technical issues such as the potential animal health benefits of putting woodland barriers between neighbouring stock, assessing where shelter woods should be located to benefit livestock, as well as any other woodland or livestock farming topics raised by attendees.

Peter Beattie, technical projects manager for QMS, said: "This exciting collaboration between QMS and FCS will demonstrate how livestock and woodland management can be integrated on commercial farms to benefit farmers and foresters alike.

"Both organisations want to investigate how the economic benefits of woodland can be maximised while stock numbers are maintained on Scottish farms. The meetings will offer the opportunity to view real-life examples of managed woodlands and discuss with the farmers and specialists the successes and challenges of combining forestry with stock keeping. The meetings will be of interest to farmers, foresters, advisers and rural policy staff."

The launch meeting is being held on Tuesday 9 November at Bolfracks Estate, Aberfeldy, courtesy of Athel Price who is well known for his innovative approach to woodland management - the estate has won the "Scotland's Finest Woods Award".

Bolfracks' farming enterprise has around 1,200 Scotch Mule x Texel ewes and 75 spring calving Saler cows, crossed with Limousin and Belgian Blue bulls. The 2,500 acre organic estate, which includes a large area of forestry, has two staff members, and extends to 1,500 feet above sea level.

Alaster Fraser, Bolfracks' farm manager, said the estate's proactive approach to woodland management was delivering a host of benefits. Birch, rowan and ash are the main three tree species which are being planted.

"As well as providing important shelter and amenity opportunities, careful management of woodland grazing means we can defer housing the cows by around a month, saving around 40/head on housing costs.

"By using woodchips from the trees, our total bedding bill for our 75 cows costs just 250, the retail equivalent value of the woodchips we use for bedding.And the bird population on the farm has also noticeably rocketed which is very rewarding," said Fraser.