Good Looking Fodder From Trees in the Farm Life
When the sun dries out the land and pastures shrivel, it’s time to look for other feed. A good option for farmers is to grow some trees to feed the animals and to shade them from the hot sun.
Tree fodder is used to supplement pasture feed in many countries, and for New Zealand willows and poplars can grow good feed quickly. Livestock love to eat them and they contain valuable nutrients that help to maintain good stock health.
Willow and poplars grow in most temperate situations. Early NZ settlers planted some types that are now weeds –silver poplars that sucker excessively and crack willows that block South Island streams and rivers. Since the 1950s poplar and willow types have been developed especially for erosion control, and these are now widely planted on hill country and as shelterbelts.
Tree nurseries supply them as 2-3 meter high poles, which are rammed into suitable soils in late winter. They soon grow into well-formed trees, though they need protection with sleeves during the first five years as stock is keen to chew the bark.
To grow trees for supplying fodder, willows and poplars can be pillared by cutting their tops off at shoulder height at 4-5 years after planting, which can be safely done standing on the ground and using a chainsaw. They regrow by forming a cluster of thin branches that gives a bushy tree, which can be easily cut with a pruning saw to supply fresh fodder daily, and without much hard labor.
Poplars tend to shed their leaves when a drought develops (as a protection mechanism) and stock will eat the daily “pennies from heaven” as soon as they reach the ground, supplying much-needed feed with good mineral content.
Another way to use tree fodder is to grow a browse block on a boggy area by planting willow stakes a meter high at a meter apart from each way. These can be easily cut from your existing trees and rammed halfway into the soil, then left to establish for at least a year. They can be browsed by stock in their second summer, and the understory pasture will also be grazed.
The trick is to graze this tree and pasture mixture evenly and you may need to chop the mix back at intervals, to keep the feed quality at a reasonable level. Feeding trials in the lower North Island have shown that sheep fed supplementary tree fodder on drought pasture maintained their lambing percentage, whereas those just grazing the dry pasture lambed up to 30 percent lower. Farmers report that it makes them feel happier and less helpless during a drought when they feed these trees to hungry stock.