Livestock shelterbelts

Shelterbelts provide benefits to feedlots, livestock pastures, and calving areas. Reduced wind speed in winter lowers animal stress, improves animal health, and increases feeding efficiency.

Shelterbelts protect the working environment in and around the livestock area. They also screen noise and odours associated with livestock operations.

Protecting livestock with trees can be accomplished several ways. Shelterbelts planted at the end of pastures provide herds with protection from wind and blowing snow. Shade trees in a pasture provide welcome relief for livestock on hot summer days. Feedlot shelterbelts can reduce wind velocity, reducing animal stress. Swine and poultry benefit from protective shelterbelts and shade-providing trees. Barns, pens and milking parlours that are protected by trees can lead to increased milk yields from dairy herds.

Shelterbelts can screen unsightly areas from the road and living area. They filter dust from tillage operations and road traffic. They also muffle machinery and traffic noise. Some odours are absorbed and diffused by plants within the shelterbelt while others are masked by the more desirable smells of aromatic leaves and flowers.

Each shelterbelt should be designed to meet the needs of your specific livestock operation. A well-planned and properly cared for shelterbelt protects livestock in both the winter and summer and will provide benefits to you over the long term. It is important to fence shelterbelts to protect them from the livestock. Livestock can damage trees and shrubs directly by consuming leaves and stems and indirectly by compacting the soil in the root zone.

Summer and winter protection

Shelterbelts can protect livestock from cold winter winds while still allowing summer winds to circulate in the feedlot or pasture area, reducing the potential heat stress to the animals.

During the winter, shelterbelt protection provides significant benefits to livestock producers in reduced feed requirements, increased weight gains, and improved animal health. When livestock are raised in confinement buildings with controlled temperatures, shelterbelts reduce the amount of energy necessary to heat or cool the building depending on the season.

Locate feed bunks 25 - 40 metres (m) south of the inside row of the shelterbelt to avoid both winter and summer problems. In the winter, the access road and feeding apron will be located beyond the area where snow will accumulate.

In the summer, cattle will rarely experience significant heat stress since they are outside the area of significant wind speed reduction.

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Description - Planning shelterbelts to protect livestock from winter cold

The figure shows a sketch of a livestock confinement area with two separate areas: a feedlot area and a calving/winter feeding area. Prevailing winds are indicated from the northwest. A proposed, three to six row livestock shelterbelt protecting the feedlot area is drawn onto the sketch running on the north and west sides of the confinement area at a setback distance of 45 to 60 m. A proposed two or three-row shelterbelt protecting the calving area is drawn onto the sketch enclosing it on the north, west and south sides of the confinement area at a setback distance of 45 to 60 m.

Designing the shelterbelt

Shelterbelts should be located perpendicular to prevailing winter winds. Make sure that shelterbelts located on the south side do not block summer breezes. Summer breezes are important in reducing heat stress.

Proper drainage for melting snow must be provided in order to reduce the level of mud in feedlot areas. Direct the runoff away from the trees since high nitrate levels from urine in the runoff will damage the shelterbelt.

There are two major types of shelterbelt designs typically used for livestock confinement areas. One, the traditional multi-row design and two, the twin-row, high density design. The design choice depends on the available area, the desired protection zone, and shelterbelt objectives.

Multi-row shelterbelt design

The traditional livestock shelterbelt design incorporates three or more rows of trees and shrubs, with at least one conifer row. Typically, within-row spacing is 0.3-1.0 m for shrubs, 2.0-2.5 m for deciduous trees and 2.5-3.0 m for coniferous trees. Spacing between the rows is typically 5.0-6.0 m but should be adjusted to accommodate your tillage equipment used to maintain the planting. The multi-row shelterbelt design is a high density planting that protects a large area.

Twin-row, high density design

The twin-row, high density design utilizes closer spacing, both within and between rows than the multi-row design. Space shrubs 0.9-1.2 m apart and trees 2.0-3.0 m apart. Rows should be planted 1.5 – 2.0 m apart. A second, and possibly third, set of twin-rows may be planted 7.5-15 m from the first.

The larger spacing between sets makes room for snow storage and provides an access route to the interior of the shelterbelt. Also, this area between twin-row sets can be cropped or left for wildlife habitat.

Two major advantages of the twin-row design over the mulitrow design are:

  • greater density
  • less weed control maintenance between rows.

One disadvantage is that shelterbelt renovation may be required earlier in its lifespan because of the closer spacing.

A combination of both multi-row and twin-row designs can be used around feedlots and other livestock production areas. A twin-row planting of closely spaced shrubs, 15 m from the windward side of a multi-row shelterbelt will act as a snow trap, depositing snow between the two tree plantings. Again, be sure to plan for proper drainage for melting snow.

A shelterbelt designed to protect livestock should meet the specific needs of the site and the farm operation. The complexity increases when additional benefits or objectives are involved.

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