Tips for creating a shelter belt

Getting cattle safely through our long cold winters can be made a little easier by planting some trees. Shelter belts can increase beef cow herd profitability by reducing cold stress on cattle.
Everybody knows things get a lot colder once the wind starts to blow. As temperatures drop, wind chill becomes increasingly important in cattle production.
A wind speed of 50 m.p.h. at minus-18 C produces a windchill value of minus-45 C. Since cold temperatures force the animals to burn more energy to stay warm, conversion of feed to weight gain is reduced and the producer faces higher feed costs, longer times to market, or lower market weights.
All outcomes point to reduced productivity and profit.
A well-planned shelter belt system that effectively reduces exposure to harsh winter winds can improve the situation considerably.
Shelter belts can reduce wind speeds by as much as 50 percent for up to 10 times their height—creating a protected area extending as far as 30 times their height.
Studies from North Dakota indicate shelter belt-protected cattle have feed conversion efficiencies of almost one pound of feed per pound of gain better than unprotected cattle.
Cattle in windbreak-protected feedlots can gain an average of 35 pounds more than cattle in open ones.
Windbreaks should be several rows wide. A dense row of low-growing shrubs on the outside blocks ground winds. Medium and tall trees in the interior will deflect the wind over the protected area.
Rows of coniferous trees like spruce and pine provide a dense effective winter wind barrier and thermal trap.
Carefully-planned shelter belts also have the potential to reduce operating expenses, especially heating bills for buildings, as well as snowdrifting in the farmyard.
Shelter belts and windbreaks also can be more than wind stoppers—they can be managed to produce firewood and lumber. Existing mature tree rows can be managed to yield significant volumes of lumber or firewood for on-farm use or sale to local markets.
New shelter belt plantings can include fast-growing tree species that provide early shelter benefits and the option of a short-rotation forestry crop. Hybrid poplars, for instance, can be established quickly as an effective wind barrier while reaching millable size within 20 years.
Integrating lumber production does not mean the elimination of the shelter belt. Foresight and good planning can provide both shelter and a salable crop.
Managed shelter belt harvesting maintains tree health and ensures long-term sustainability—both physically and economically.

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