There are few things I appreciate more than a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. Strong, cold gusts where I can barely keep my feet on the ground – not so much. Although a natural occurrence, pastures too aren’t too fond of extreme winds either, as they can have devastating effects on soil, pasture and cattle1.

Wind erosion is the greatest threat the wind poses to the soil. This results in decreased soil fertility because wind erosion removes the top layer of soil which is rich in nutrients. It is estimated that 2 billion tons of top soil is lost every year due to wind erosion. This removal of top soil also leads to decreased effective soil depth2. Wind damages pasture physically by causing abrasions on leaves, also affecting the plants’ ability to retain water1, especially in hot dry weather3. For animals, winds that are on the extreme end of cold and hot can increase the mortality rate of calves, due to their underdeveloped insulation1. Adverse weather conditions also have an effect on how much food animals can take in and the amount of energy provisioned for maintenance and production1, which can lead to a drop in the latter. The soil, grass and cows are essential for pasture-based dairy farming, it would therefore only make sense to shield them from the wind, especially in areas known to have extreme winds.

Windbreaks can be planted to reduce the force of the wind, therefore also reducing its negative effects. Here are some benefits of planting windbreaks that increase pasture productivity:

  • Decreases soil erosion

Windbreaks reduce the speed of wind that is strong enough to carry the soil particles away. Trees also slow down erosion by water by improving infiltration rates and slowing down runoff rates6.

  • Improves the wellbeing of cattle and subsequently, production4

By providing protecting against extreme winds, cattle are more thermally comfortable1, allowing energy to be used for maintenance and milk production.

  • Improved water use efficiency through reduced evapotranspiration

As evapotranspiration occurs, the air around the soil and plant gets more humid and slows the process down. Faster winds bring more dry air, reducing humidity and resultantly increasing evapotranspiration6. By breaking the speed of the wind, evapotranspiration is reduced.

There are some important considerations to keep in mind prior to planting windbreaks. Firstly, the tree species you select must not be poisonous to your animals. Secondly, the trees should be water and nutrient efficient, without severely outcompeting the pasture plants for nutrients. Get in touch with a knowledgeable person to know how to plant the windbreak and the species most suitable for your farm situation to successfully ‘break the wind’.

References:

  1. Sturrock, J.W. 1981. Wind constraints to agricultural productivity. Weather and Climate 1: 31-35
  2. Faghihinia, M. and Afzali, S.F. 2013. Effects of wind erosion on soil organic carbon dynamics and other soil properties: Dejgah catchment, Farashband County, Shiraz Province, Iran. African Journal of Agricultural Research. Vol. 8(34), pp. 4452-4459
  3. World Meteorological Organization. 2010. Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices. WMO-No.134
  4. https://www.dairynz.co.nz/environment/land-management/trees-on-farms/ (Accessed 14 November 2017)
  5. http://www.livingthecountrylife.com/gardening/trees/5-tips-for-planting-a-windbreak/ (Accessed 7 November 2017)
  6. The Woodland Trust. 2012. Benefits of trees on livestock farms – the evidence for integrating trees. (Available online at https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/publications/2012/08/benefits-of-tree-on-livestock-farms/)

Anele Madlala

Anele is a sustainability researcher, having joined the team in January 2016. She has an honours B.Sc degree in Soil Science from the University of the Free State. She is passionate about natural resource management, with a particular interest in the soil and water relationship.

As an enthusiast of the arts, in her spare time, Anele enjoys painting and watching theatre productions. She loves visiting South African towns with rich histories, diverse cultures and beautiful landscapes. If she's not outdoors, you'll find her eyes glued to the National Geographic channel.

Keen to get in touch? E-mail Anele on anele@traceandsave.com or connect with her on LinkedIn
LinkedIn: Anele Madlala