The living barn | Living the Country Life

The living barn

Create a natural shelter in a wooded area
Photo courtesy of Brett Chedzoy

Livestock such as cattle and sheep are able to tolerate a wide range of weather conditions, but they appreciate shelter from driving snow, and a place to cool off in the heat. Establishing a natural, “living barn” from trees in the woods can offer the protection they need without having to build a covered structure.

Brett Chedzoy is a regional extension forester at Cornell University Cooperative Extension. He says living barns can be developed in an existing wooded area, or from scratch by planting trees.

"If creating one by planting trees, then conifer species such as pines and spruces and cedars are usually easier to establish and they will offer better protection in the winter," says Chedzoy. "In the summer periods, protection from extreme heat or hailstorms or something like that, either deciduous trees or evergreen trees would work."

When choosing tree species, consult with a forestry expert in your area.

Tree density should be low enough to promote good growth and vigor, but high enough to offer protection from weather. Chedzoy says for those reasons, a living barn has to be well-managed.

"The plants need adequate space to grow, so the living barn should be periodically thinned out, favoring the better trees," he says. "Livestock should be excluded from living barn areas when they’re not needed, so that the trees are able to rest and recover and to avoid issues like excessive soil compaction or excessive nutrients from the manure and waste hay."

Chedzoy says this type of shelter is adequate for most cattle and sheep, but may not be for goats and other animals that are more susceptible to wet, cold weather.

Learn more:

How Brett Chedzoy manages his property for livestock shelter

Take part in a discussion about living barns and silvopasture

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