Willow as Fodder
Many willow species have similar nutritional value to grass and are highly digestible to browsing animals such as sheep, horses and cattle. Salix Viminalis x Schwerinii DRH Brown ,Chinese willow / Salix Miyabeana and Q83- Salix Triandra x Viminalis all suited to the systems described here.
- Willow can be grown as dedicated browse blocks where animals are given access directly to the willow on a rotation with other fields / crops or
- In hedgerows around a paddock for the animals to browse at will or
- As trees above browsing height where branches are trimmed off and feed to stock as required.
Different methods will suit different animals, ground and growing conditions.
Additionally willow can be stored as a form of silage but this may require special harvesting equipment.
This method is especially suited to sheep and also otherwise unproductive wet areas of land.
An area of land is hard grazed to reduce competing vegetation. Then willow cuttings are planted late winter / early spring at moderate density of 1m spacing between cuttings. They will shoot in the spring and sheep / grazers can be allowed into the block once the shoots have reached around 2 -3 foot in length.
Grazers are removed to allow regrowth once most of the young growth has been consumed. The cycle can be repeated through the summer.
Here a hedgerow of willow is planted up alongside a paddock or field. Standard stock fencing should be used to protect the new hedgerow. Growth that is reachable to the browser will be consumed. There is some evidence that suggests that horses and cattle will seek out willow to self medicate. The hedgerow supplements the browsers diet with a rich source of micronutrients as well as providing an effective windbreak.
In this system willow is planted as stakes upto 2m in length at a spacing to suit management of the pasture. That is considering access for tractors and toppers etc. Additional considerations are how wet the land is. On wet land denser planting can help dry out the land to improve access for farm machinery.
The willow trees are allowed to establish with most growth being above browsing height. The trees provide good shade and shelter. Once established they are pollarded. That is the branches are cut back to the main trunk. The branches can be browsed where they drop or fed to animals elsewhere. Both the leaves and stems are edible. But the size of stem that will be eaten varies. Cattle will eat upto 4cm diameter stems, sheep 1cm. Branches are typically harvested on a 2-3 year rotation.
In all cases the willow provides a valuable supplement to grass with typically higher lvels of micro nutrients and minerals.
If you have specific questions please contact me.