Manage livestock damage to your forest

Livestock can cause significant damage to your forest. There are ways to manage this and keep your trees and animals healthy.

Grazing livestock in a forest

It’s important to carefully time when you introduce livestock to young trees. Generally, trees should be 3 years old before you introduce livestock.

Get advice from a local forestry consultant about the best times to introduce livestock for your forest.

Benefits of grazing

There are gains for both livestock and forests from normal forest grazing. For example:

  • livestock can benefit from the shelter
  • control of vegetation competing with your trees
  • the forest benefits from a reduced fire risk
  • lower silviculture costs as workers can move easily through the forest.

Grazing damage to your forest

Domestic livestock, such as cows or sheep, can damage trees by:

  • grazing foliage
  • stripping bark
  • pushing smaller trees over or damaging them through trampling
  • rubbing against trees.

If your forest is close to livestock, well maintained fences and gates are essential. Always consider the possibility of livestock damaging the trees and manage them carefully.

Looking after your livestock

It’s as important to look after livestock when you forest graze, as you do when you have livestock in a paddock. Ensure access to a water supply if natural supplies are inadequate or hard to access.

Forest grazing is considered rough grazing and can harm your animals if left too long. Animals under stress are more likely to damage trees. Tree damage can be higher in areas where animals congregate, such as around gates and troughs. If you continue with forest grazing, you need to accept you are not likely to produce good trees in these areas.

Some tree species can be harmful to livestock, while others are highly palatable. As part of your planting plan, make sure you've chosen right tree, right place.

Totally Vets has information on the most commonly encountered poisonous plants that cause issues with livestock.

Livestock grazed in a forest needs careful management

You should monitor tree damage levels at least daily. Remove livestock as soon as you see damage.

Damage from animal pests

Possums, rabbits, hares, wallabies and feral goats can be very destructive on young trees.

District and regional councils generally coordinate wild animal control programmes. Small forest growers can help by joining local pest control organisations run by councils.

Landcare groups often work in the area of pest control. They can be contacted through regional councils and Federated Farmers. If you own a forest it might be useful to join a group.

For information on the types of damage caused by animal pests, see our page on pests.