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Try windbreaks to shelter livestock

Justin Davey 12/07/2012 @ 2:19pm

Cattle health is of the utmost importance in a livestock operation, and the bitter cold that hits much of the country during the winter months can take its toll on the animals. Windbreaks are a wise method for sheltering beef and dairy cattle, potentially saving on feed costs, weight loss, and milk production.

A heavy winter coat protects beef cattle until temperatures drop below 18 degrees Fahrenheit, but beyond that point, the animals require additional feed to maintain body temperatures, according to Bob Atchison with the Kansas Forest Service said. The presence of a windbreak can help remedy this problem.

“A 25 mph wind at zero degrees Fahrenheit creates a windchill of 44 degrees below zero,” said Atchison. “By contrast, a properly designed windbreak will reduce the same windchill to 15 degrees below zero.”

Atchison said windbreaks can reduce the spike in energy requirements cattle need to maintain their body temperature during extreme cold weather. He cited Canadian researchers who found that cattle on winter range, in unprotected sites, required a 50 percent increase in feed for normal activities. 

“A properly designed windbreak will reduce these needs by half,” he said.

Windbreaks enable cattle to gain and maintain weight better as well. He also cited studies in Montana indicating that during mild winters, beef cattle sheltered by windbreaks gained an average of 34 to 35 pounds more than cattle in an open feedlot. During severe winters, cattle in feedlots protected from the wind maintained 10.6 more pounds than cattle in unprotected lots.

Windbreak design

When considering where to construct a windbreak, remember that they should be located perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds. For example, in the upper midwest and northern great plains, windbreaks should be located on the north and west. In some situations, an additional windbreak on the south side will provide protection from snow storms in late winter and early spring. Be careful that windbreaks located on the south side do not block summer breezes, increasing heat stress. In southern locations, avoid windbreaks located on the south.

Proper drainage for melting snow must be provided in order to reduce the level of mud in feedlot areas, according to a report by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. "Likewise, runoff from the feedlot should be directed away from the trees since the high nitrate levels of the runoff will damage the windbreak."

There are two major types of windbreak designs generally used for livestock, the report continues. "The traditional multi-row design and a newer twin-row, high-density design.

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