Silvopastoral agroforestry systems

In silvopastoral agroforestry systems, woody plants are combined with grazing land and livestock farming. The diverse application possibilities vary in intensity, area and combinations of livestock and woody species. It is possible to fuse livestock farming with the production of (energy) wood or with the production of food (fruits, nuts). The fusion of fodder production and livestock farming is particularly common. In this context, woody plants can be cultivated specifically for the production of fodder leaves.

Silvopastoral agroforestry systems are a subgroup of agroforestry systems (→ Agroforestry systems). They are listed separately because of their high potential to contribute to greater animal welfare and sustainability. This niche is particularly relevant for Germany, as the legal framework has so far prevented the spread of silvopastoral systems (see below Risks / Disadvantages).

Aim and innovation

Silvopastoral systems have multiple environmental advantages over open pasture systems. These include a higher biodiversity, the reduction of soil erosion and the buffering of climate extremes. Results of studies suggest that silvopastoral systems have a higher potential to reduce greenhouse gases from agricultural land and can store greater amounts of carbon than open pasture systems, traditional plantations and arable farming systems[1]. Studies also show higher productivity in the production sectors (animal feed, meat, egg and milk production)[2]. In addition, the fusion of woodland and pasture land can have a positive impact on animal welfare. Shrubs and trees offer comfort due to the shade and also resemble the natural habitat of the most common farm animal species.



Dehesa Farms - Spain, Weidegänse und Trüffel - Switzerland[5]; Nith Valley Eggs - United Kingdom[6]; Sainsbury's cooperation with silvopastoral chicken farming - United Kingdom[7]  



intermediate consumption, production



wine producers, horticulture, fruit growing farms, forestry institutions, livestock farms, gourmet meat producers (Iberian ham)


State of development

As a type of silvopastoral system, forest pastures form a significant proportion of the estimated 33% of the total area of pasture land on earth[3]. Such systems are especially to be found in the countries of the Global South. In Europe and especially Germany, however, this form of land use has become rare. In 2009, a study concluded that the economic potential and the possibilities of dual use of forest areas in Germany are hardly known[4]. According to the study, there is still a lot of potential in this regard in Germany. However, the legislation in Germany limits the spread of silvopastoral systems. These forestry law framework conditions came in response to an overuse of forests by livestock farming. Modern examples have been rare and frequently fallen out of the classification of use. As a result, illustrative examples of the economic potential are currently lacking.


Sustainability potential


  • biodiversity
  • soil
  • water
  • climate
  • air
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption


  • increase of food security
  • promotion of recycling economy (indirect)


  • animal welfare

Risks / disadvantages

In addition to the above mentioned disadvantages of the silvoarable agroforestry systems, silvopastoral systems can, under high grazing pressure, cause increased damage to the woods through heavy treading and feeding[8], which makes the systems particularly cost and time intensive. Additional protective measures must be taken.

In Germany, the distribution of silvopastoral forest pastures is more difficult because of the legislation in place. Both the national legislation on forestry ('Bundeswaldgesetz') and the state legislation on forestry ('Landeswaldgesetz') define the legal framework[9]. According to the national legislation on forestry, areas with tree population, which at the same time serve the cultivation of agricultural products (hence agroforestry use and thus silvopastoral forest pastures), can no longer be considered forests. This would signify a change of land use and thus a transformation of the forest.[10] The state legislation on forestry lists a number of principles that must be fulfilled in order to be able to implement modern silvopastoral forest pasture. Apart from the forest owner's consent, these include forest conservation, the safeguarding of forest functions through prudent, extensive pasture management, minimum relative stock of trees, prudent management in line with a certain set of rules and the right of access.[11] A simplified legislation could exploit the potential of forest pastures and increase the lack of practical knowledge in Germany.

[1] Peichl, M. et al. (2006): Carbon Sequestration Potentials in Temperate Tree-Based Intercropping Systems, Southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems, 66(3), 243–257. p. 243https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-005-0361-8

[2] Jose, S., & Dollinger, J. (2019): Silvopasture: A sustainable livestock production system. Agroforestry Systems, 93(1), 1–9. p. 1https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-019-00366-8

[3] Gallego-Giraldo, L., et al. (2011): Salicylic acid mediates the reduced growth of lignin down-regulated plants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(51), 20814–20819. p. 115.https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1117873108

[4] Chalmin, A. et al. (2009): Neue Optionen für eine nachhaltige Landnutzung. Schlussbericht des Projektes Agroforst. p. 140.

[5] Baumann-Oerhallau (2017): Baumann Oberhallau – Weidegänse, Trüffel und weitere gesunde Nahrungsmittel.  https://www.baumann-oberhallau.ch/ (20.02.2020)

[6] Free Range Eggs (n.d.): Nith Valley Eggs. http://www.nithvalleyeggs.co.uk/ (20.02.2020)

[7] Sainsbury’s. (n.d.): Woodland hens roam free – for cracking eggs – Sainsbury’s. https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/making-a-difference/our-values/our-stories/2017/woodland-hens-roam-free-for-cracking-eggs (20.02.2020)

[8] Chalmin, A. et al. (2009): Neue Optionen für eine nachhaltige Landnutzung. Schlussbericht des Projektes Agroforst. p. 122.

[9] Landesbetrieb ForstBW. (2017): MERKBLATT Waldweide. p. 16. https://www.forstbw.de/fileadmin/forstbw_infothek/forstbw_praxis/ForstBW_Merkblatt_Waldweide_WEB.pdf (20.02.2020)

[10] ibid.