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Wind shelter for livestock

Protect livestock from the winter winds by planting a windbreak
Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University

Sheep have wool coats, and cattle grow thick hair, but when the winter winds pick up, you might find them huddled against the trees in your pasture. A stand of trees can do a good job of blocking the worst of the harsh weather.

If your livestock are in an open feedlot, windbreaks can make a huge difference. Studies have shown that during severe winters, cattle in feedlots protected from the wind gained 10-pounds more than cattle in unprotected lots.

Jim Brandle is an emeritus shelterbelt ecologist at the University of Nebraska. He says the windbreak has to be planted in the right place to do the job.

"You'd like it to be perpendicular to those winter winds because your maximum protection is measured in distances away from the windbreak perpendicular to a prevailing wind," says Brandle. "And for most of the area we're talking about, we're looking at a windbreak at least on the north, and we would strongly encourage protection on the west as well."

A windbreak on the south side can provide protection from snow storms in late winter and early spring. But, be careful with southern windbreaks. They might block summer breezes, which could increase heat stress for animals.  

At the minimum, a windbreak planting should have three dense rows.

"One of which should be a pretty dense conifer. Something like Eastern Red Cedar, or Northern White Cedar.  Some of the spruce species work there, too. We're looking for something that holds density during the winter," says Brandle. "We want something with some height, so you may very well find a tall deciduous tree associated with it, and typically a shrub.  Typically the shrub will be on the inside toward the feedlot."

To make chores a little easier, plant another row of shrubs or trees about 50'-100' away from the main windbreak. It will act as a snow trip so you won't have heavy drifts in the area where you have to work with the livestock.

Learn more about planting wind breaks for livestock and wildlife

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