This project aims to learn more about sheep grazing in boreal coniferous forests. This is an important practice in Norway since it produces food on available natural resources found across the country. The use of forest as pasture for livestock has a long tradition in Norway but faces challenges including modern forestry and large carnivores.
This project will examine two current and one experimental grazing system in coniferous forests: 1) free-ranging sheep, 2) sheep inside electric carnivore proof fences, and 3) sheep grazing on fenced clear-cuts. Data on where and what the sheep graze, and health and growth in sheep while grazing in each system, will be collected and analysed. How sheep grazing influences the vegetation, and how it influences young spruce plants (e.g. growth and damages) will also be investigated in each system.
Since the project deals with issues that concern different forest stakeholders, they will participate and give input throughout the project. Interviews will be conducted with sheep farmers, foresters, and representatives from tourist and hunting organizations, who share their experiences with forest grazing. Furthermore, interviews will be carried out with sheep farmers about experiences with regard to the use of monitoring equipment/supervision of animals, use of forest grazing, parasites, and disease control. In this way, stakeholders will take part in writing recommendations for practical improvements, in order to develop sustainable grazing systems for sheep in the coniferous forest.
The project will explore two current and one alternative sheep silvopasture system in the boreal forest. The systems are 1) free-ranging sheep, 2) sheep inside carnivore proof fences and 3) sheep grazing on clear-cuts as a measure for vegetation management. The project includes studies of diet- and habitat selection of sheep, which will form the basis for studies of sheep grazing as vegetation management in forests. The impact of sheep grazing on forestry will be assessed by studying growth in- and damage to young trees in regeneration areas. In each silvopasture system we will perform studies on the importance of grazing for biomass production and the impact on plant communities. Sheep health and weight gain of lambs in each system will also be compared, and an assessment will be made of the relationships between parasite status, stocking density and operational measures on the sheep farms. We will also evaluate the use of virtual fences on free-ranging sheep in large forest areas. Semi-structured interviews of different stakeholders such as forest owners, land managers, sheep farmers and other forest users (e.g. hunters, hikers, tourists) will be conducted to gather experiences with the different grazing systems. The results from the studies will be collated and used in collaboration with the project's reference group, consisting of representatives from the various interest groups, to make recommendations with regard to increased sustainability and practical improvements of the grazing systems.