Silvopasture In The Sandhills

Farm: Fox Squirrel Farm
Operator: Jason and Sarah Smith
Production: Livestock, Fruit, Vegetables
Markets: Farmer’s Market, CSA
Location:Eagle Springs, Moore County, NC

“There are numerous additional benefits to a silvopasture system- shade in the summer, windbreak in the winter, and to minimize erosion. Since our pasture area is located southwest from our vegetable production, we will also benefit from the added windbreak. On a small scale, silvopasture can be installed with fruit or nut trees, increasing the income potential of the land.”-Jason Smith

Fox Squirrel Farm is a young husband and wife partnership in the Sandhills. Jason Smith and Sarah Daly were working in retail and service jobs when Jason was inspired by an experience with farming on some land that was purchased by a chef that he worked under. They decided to move and settle in Moore County on some family land Jason had inherited and there they began to start farming. While most of their friends had become nurses and schoolteachers, Jason and Sarah were living a unique but gratifying life for young adults in the U.S., by being small farmers and growing food while caring for the land. Jason attends Central Carolina Community College to learn more about sustainable agriculture so that he can grow the enterprise while simultaneously ensuring environmental sustainability on his land. The couple cultivates organic vegetables and humanely raised pigs and chickens which they sell at several farmers markets in the central Carolina region.

With the TCRF grant, Jason and Sarah were able to experiment with an innovative system of integrating livestock with tree crops called ‘silvopasture’. This integrated system has several benefits while making the most use out of the land because it enables the farmer to cultivate healthy livestock while growing a timber product or tree fruit and nuts.

“We want to demonstrate that with a little planning and management, one piece of land can simultaneously produce numerous different products including various livestock, fruit, nuts, and timber. We also want to educate that livestock are valuable for much more than just the products we think of; they are cutting grass, sanitizing pasture, clearing land, fertilizing, providing interesting agritourism sights, and utilizing unsold vegetables.”

Silvopasture benefits both the livestock and the tree crops and can be a complete closed-loop system for nutrients. The livestock will fertilize the tree crops by grazing between the plants and creating manure. The trees provide better forage for the animals by dropping rotted or unsellable fruits and nuts that the livestock love to eat while also providing shade to the animals which increases their welfare. Chickens can benefit the trees by eating common pests that make their nesting habitat in the soil around the base of the tree. The chickens will reduce populations of insects by foraging, which will in turn benefit the health of the tree and its crop.

There are so many positives with closed loop systems like silvopasture because the system is designed so that every organism in it is benefiting from the exchanges going on within. It becomes difficult to tease out every function that each individual is providing for the agro-ecosystem, proving that the system is stable and healthy and does not need to rely on chemical pesticides or too much human intervention.

Jason and Sarah used the TCRF grant award to invest in portable fencing and chicken tractors, to guide the animals through the trees in organized paddocks. This ensures that the system is getting equal treatment as a whole and that the animals always have access to adequate forage. The tractors are mobile coops that provide shelter from predators and inclimate weather for the poultry. The fencing is made out of lightweight plastic and can be easily folded and reset by at least 2 people.

Jason and Sarah Smith explain their grant project:

Fox Squirrel Farms from RAFI-USA on Vimeo.