Shawn Shouse says if there was ever a winter that validated the expense of a feedlot windbreak, it was the last one.
“February was brutal,” he says. “It was a long winter for everyone.”
A well-constructed windbreak can help keep cattle warmer and dryer in the winter in addition to helping them add weight despite winter conditions.
“The majority of open feedlots have some sort of windbreak,” says Shouse, an Extension ag engineer with Iowa State University based in southwest Iowa. “It’s a huge benefit when it comes to feed efficiency. You really see that benefit during periods of extreme cold stress.”
He says many systems will work well to help keep animals out of a harsh wind. Shouse says some producers may elect to plant trees to keep away the north wind. Others may build tall fences that not only knock down the wind, but help keep snow out of the feedlot.
Shelters inside the lot could also offer some wind resistance, he says.
Windbreaks are also effective for cattle housed under a roof, such as a monoslope building.
“Most will use stacked bales as a temporary windbreak, especially in the early part of winter,” Shouse says. “The important thing is keeping cattle dry, which you can do much more easily in a building. If they stay dry, they can usually handle cold fairly well.”
Any windbreak should be set up to ensure air flow during the warmer months.
Shouse says windbreaks can also provide habitat for birds and smaller wildlife. He says using a mixture of tree and bush species will help entice wildlife if desired.
Some feedlots utilize portable, man-made structures that provide a windbreak in the winter and shade in the summer.
“You can build a very effective windbreak that gives you some protection for several months in the year,” Shouse says.
He adds windbreaks will also help dilute odor.
The NRCS offers the following approach to aid in designing and building a windbreak. The number of rows to plant, the proximity of the planting to the structures being protected, and the type of trees and shrubs used depends on factors such as landowner desires for aesthetics and wildlife, wind direction, and the purpose of the windbreak.
Generally, a multi-row windbreak of conifers, deciduous trees and shrubs planted on the north and west side of the area being protected is needed. Locate the windbreak at a distance from the structure or area of two to five times the anticipated height of the tallest tree in the planting. In areas of heavy snow, increase the distance to 100 to 200 feet. Also, extend the windbreak beyond the protected area.
When choosing the trees and shrubs to include in a windbreak design, consider the species’ adaptation to the site and soils, hardiness, growth rate, longevity and maintenance needs.
Figure the number of trees needed by dividing the windbreak length by the distance between trees.
Generally between-row spacing is 15 to 20 feet. This can be shortened for shrubs and lengthened for tall conifers. The distance between plants within the row depends on the species and the purpose of the windbreak. Plantings may be as close as 4 feet for shrubs and as far as 30 feet for tall trees.
Ideally, planting stock should be ordered from local sources.
Site preparation is an important step in establishing a windbreak because it will provide a desirable seed bed for planting the trees, build up soil moisture, and help control perennial weeds and grasses. The basic methods of site preparation are cultivation, mulching and herbicides. Typically a combination is needed.
Plant as soon after receiving the planting stock as possible. Whether the seedlings are planted with a machine or by hand, it is important to plant them firmly, at the right depth and with their roots fully extended and vertical.
Additional thinning will be needed as trees mature. Pruning should be to a minimum of 20 feet.