As my title says, my main purpose of this post is design and location of my windbreaks for my livestock. Currently I have a few cows, in the future I plan on sheep as well. I'm currently in the process of designing my property, it is a small farm if you will of 17.5 acres. I have been putting I guess you'd say semi-permanent cross fencing, using high tensile electric fence to break my pasture up into four manageable sections for rotational grazing. I've been doing that using only polywire since May of this year, and will use the polywire to make smaller breaks in those four sections. Moving the animals daily I can already see the difference in my fields. It's exciting to start to see improvements!
Now that I've got my pasture broken into 4 sections, I want to begin adding trees for windbreaks, shade, and even food source for my animals. My question concerns how to best position the trees. When I say position them, I want to block wind and sun from the primary problem directions, west and north. One idea is to use both evergreens and apple trees, and form a kind of T if looked at from above. Evergreens to the north, and apple trees on the perpendicular. Kinda like this:
E E E E E
Also I know I have five of each tree here, but this is just illustration purposes. I could double up rows, use more/less of each etc. All depends on the spot and what might work best.
I would probably have several of these T's throughout the property. At least one in each section, and in the larger sections (I have irregularly shaped property) possibly two of these tree groups.
I am in a humid summer zone 6, does anyone have any thoughts on which trees might work best? I was thinking several different apple trees to space out production, and for evergreens Norwegian spruce, eastern white pine, shortleaf pine, ponderosa pine.
The idea behind this is that the evergreens for a more solid barrier against the winter winds, the apple trees provide shade in summer and apples for people and animals in the summer/fall. Is this a good idea, bad, etc. Can it be improved on and what would you all do differently?
The other school of thought on trees in your pasture, is more of the silvopasture design. Spacing trees throughout the property. This might be preferable, as the tree T's I described above, might make for more concentration of animal waste, as they are congregating around my windbreaks/shade. Silvopasture the trees are not all together so the manure is also spread out more.
Hopefully those of you with more and better experience/brainpower can enlighten me on this.
I am by no means an expert...but what about doing both? Plant your windbreaks then also have strategically placed trees dotting the pastures?
A few questions come to mind, though:
1-where are you located? Zone? Rainfall? Temps?
2-what is your plan for grass/hay/forage/browse? You mentioned the evergreens and apples, but what else? Are you going to grow hay or more of a meadow?
3-what breeds are you planning to stock, and how many of each? This will help you decide #2 - as an example, my Cracker Cows are great foragers and can pretty much eat anything, but I wouldn't want a dairy cow eating strong-flavored plants.
4-are you planning to build shelters in the pastures? Also helps decide #3...my Crackers have no problem with wind and rain, but the Holsteins run for cover. The sheep don't seem to care (also Crackers, hardy and parasite resistant) and the guinea hogs only care when there are piglets.
Even thought he is working on much larger acreage, you might learn alot from Greg Judy. He is also in Missouri and does a "grazing School" which I would love to attend. Its not super cheap but you have several days to really understand the issues with moving animals before you commit to a plan that has some serious unforseen drawbacks.
Check out his videos
All free advice but in my experience he answers watering, parasites, minerals, fencing, protection animals, etc ad nauseaum. Amazing resource you are lucky to have in your state.
His information will be tailored to a Missouri climate. Also, he sells stock that are all ranged and not dewormed (except for black leg which is pretty critical).
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
Typical midwest temperate climate, hot humid summers
Primarily fescue in the fields, but do have a mix of clovers, ryegrass, some johnsongrass etc. It's not a monoculture by any means. Currently I purchase all of my hay. I don't have equipment, don't really want it either as it takes money to operate and own etc, and as I'll explain next I am trying to use all my available forage for my animals. If I can buy someone else's hay, that just brings additional organic matter onto my property, which over time, will accumulate. Not a bad thing imo.
I currently have 8 commercial cows plus calves and one bull. Have no intention of going registered anytime, as it's not realistic. My goal is to get to 15 mama cows and one bull, all supported on grass and hay alone. I also provide loose salt and mineral, but no grains or supplemental feed. If they don't raise a calf or otherwise can't make it on what we're doing here, they take a ride to town. I believe with the rotational daily grazing that I started in May of 2019 that supporting this many animals is possible. We were able to extend our grazing season more than a month this year which saved at least $240 in hay costs, which is exciting for me as well as encouraging to keep at it. At that number of cattle my cows alone would be providing meat for my family, and enough calves at current prices to pay the annual mortgage on our place with some left over. That is enough cows for me. I am not trying to maximize the number of cows on this place, I have a goal I want to get to, while also making my small farm a place that we love living on.
I have watched lots of Greg Judy videos trying to learn all I can. I am hoping to make it to his farm for the South Poll annual event in June. His videos have been a great resource and inspiration to me already, and I would love to go to one of his grazing school, but its not exactly in my budget. As for his cows/bulls, they aren't exactly in my budget either. I love his herd, but so do many others so of course the price isn't easy for this smaller operator to get involved. I do like the South Poll, and I'm definitely not opposed to them, but when the commercial business is all about the black hide, its hard to understand why I would want to pay more for red cows that I'm going to have to take less for at market. I know many people say "market your beef to individuals" and that's great, but that also means taking all of your animals to finish weight. There are very real costs and time involved in doing that, some not easily seen at first. So it's not exactly easy for me to do on this small acreage. In fact, with my end goals, its truly not feasible. Every year I intend to have one cull heifer that we keep for our own personal beef, other than that the calves are going to market. I won't have room, so I need to maximize the price of the animals that I'm taking. A ten cent dock (minimum) at market adds up to real money. My take is I don't really believe that the heat tolerance is only in the red coat. Look at the Mashona cattle Elizondo has down in Florida. Those are black. Living in hot tropical conditions. I believe heat tolerance is genetic, exists in many animals not just red ones, so I need to concentrate on finding those that will thrive and do well in my environment and my management style.
I am hoping to purchase some OCC commercial heifers this spring, and will be looking to buy a Senegus bull, or Mashona. OCC has been in the grass only business for a long while, hopefully combining his genetics with a good heat tolerant breed will provide the type of animal I'm looking for, easy fleshing heat tolerant females that raise a calf every year unassisted on grass and hay alone.
As for infrastructure, I have, what I call semi-permanent, high tensile electric fence dividing my pasture into 4 unequal quadrants, as I have an abnormal lot shape. This finally got completed just last month. It will make daily moves much easier going forward.
I am experimenting with cereal grains broadcast into my pasture in the fall to help extend grazing. I had some success even as late as I started on it, and I'm looking forward to using what I'm learning.
As for shelters, hopefully the trees that I'm discussing will provide a lot of what I'm looking for. Evergreens would theoretically block a lot of wind and rain. That is why I'm asking about the specific shape of my tree formations, as well as which ones to use. Depending on exactly how I sited the trees in relation to each other and our prevailing winds, they could become living shelters if you will, rather than ones that I build and maintain. That was my idea anyway. I could also dot the landscape with trees, and I may put one here or there, but I'm hoping that the windbreak/fodder formations that I'm considering would do the job that I need. That's why I want to put one in every quadrant of my pasture. Does anyone have any thoughts on that, or anything else? Hopefully this long response answered the questions you asked :)
A few other formations that I've been considering below.
With prevailing winds and weather from the west, trying to allow cows to get some shelter at different times of the year on each side of the trees, and with coldest winter winds from the north, also allow additional reprieve from that.
E E A A A A A North
A A A A A E E
That makes it hard to comment. I would say you are not wrong to take the information from Greg and modify it. What works for him might not work for you, and probably won't! The fact that you have watched his stuff makes me willing to throw some time at a reply, not because I am a dick but because we are sort of speaking the same vocabulary, which really matters. I can't try to write out what Greg has in 45 hours of videos!
First I am doing sheep and eventually some pigs, not cows. Sheep are much smaller and won't pug a field like a 1000# animal if I mess up. And they are wooly in the winter and more mass per surface area, so they lose less heat, and I don't need as much weather protection. Spouse wants cows, so I have to have a flexible plan but I think we likely stay with sheep.
But, I am still installing what eventually will be hedgerows a la Mark Shepherd with the wire initially along the treelines, but eventually in the middle of the alley. This is to maximize my winter forage even as I lose some summer growth. I have rows every 40' roughly (although they are on contour and wander a little) perpendiclar to the prevailing wind as a freak benefit of our contours- I have no idea what your lot is like you will have to figure that out. Don't expect much windbreak for ten years unless you are cutting strips in an existing forest I would say. My windbreak main species is holly since I am trying to eradicate the diseased cedars although there are also tiny magnolias from seed and I am propagating rhododendrons as well. I am looking at some evergreens like hemlock but I suspect it will need summer protection so I am waiting a year to plant. Non-evergreens will not be as helpful as a windbreak in winter obviously. On small acreage like you and I are dealing with, you can have a couple options- make a sacrifice paddock with a good windbreak during the worst of winter or make miniwindbreaks in each paddock which loses more space. I am firmly doing the latter because it will also be my tiny zone 5 eventually with bird and critter habitat. But again I am doing maybe 20 sheep which need a small area. I figure I need one real windbreak per strip if I want to vary my rotations randomly by season which I think is important for species variety and resiliency. My strips are generally 40' x ~200' which means I need maybe 20' of windbreak per strip or 10% dedicated windbreak (high evergreen load) which is nonproductive for forage or food. That 10% should pay off in other ways.
Greg says you get $30 in minerals from a round bale, so its not a bad plan, and it is how he sets his forage. Its just not something I want to do, but its not stupid at all. I may have to do it for a year, but I have already remineralized and added copious carbon so I should be years ahead. I did lime initially which was expensive just to get the pH to where it would support clover, now I just add chips and carcasses and cheap bulk rock dust. Hay this year was very expensive around here and I am concerned about durable herbicides used to kill milkweed which will set you back decades. Gonna rely on growing it here, plus I am possibly going to pursue organic certification.
Not doing fescue. Its a bad player in the soil, does not participate in mycorrhyzal networks, has the alkaloids as you are aware that decrease finished weight (greg gets by with his frequent moves but I can't move them every 12 hours). I am seeding gamagrass after subsoiling/keylining but it should not be grazed until the following fall/winter so I am doing it in stages. This is my standing forage plan, with undergrowth of perennial rye which is already here, I just move seeds around and it should fill in. You could do a sacrifice area where you seed gamagrass in the winter and let the cows stomp it in, I think that area would get good growth but you would have to use a different sacrifice paddock next year. Over time though you could have a predominant gamagrass cuture which is the normal state in missouri, with bluestem and some other deep root grasses. Based on the research I have seen you would get nearly twice the forage biomass per year compared with fescue and not need to hay if managed well. With the herd size you propose I wouldn't bother unless you have the same sacrifice area every year, but then you will have other problems with parasites and muck unless you do the winter sacrifice>summer garden plan to flare off the excess nutrients. Sacrifice areas need cheap seeds and gamagrass is not. That plan could make some lemonade though, I haven't really thought it through. The main difference after I read this is you are stocking to summer growth, I am stocking to winter forage, and its a big difference.
Setting up paddocks is the main reason I would love to walk Gregs areas to see what works and what has failed- he is limited by his move pattern but thats not stupid. I have limited myself by the silvopasture instead. Everything has a cost.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
you might want to include some nitrogen fixing trees or other 'fedge' (food hedge) species, for your animal forage and for the health of your evergreens and apples. Ecologically, you are creating a big diversity jump already just by adding those two trees. The more you add, the greater your potential for success, given that you still leave enough space for grass forage to succeed. You could also try some shrubs and herbaceous lower level plants and ground covers in your fedge areas/rows/clusters. The more variety (given that they are, of course, edible), the healthier your animals will be.
The problem that I can foresee in implementing the plan is getting the trees/shrubs/plants up to a certain robust size while grazing animals in the same paddocks. Fencing/caging is going to be key in protecting your selected planted species until they get up to size.
If you are happy with the shape of your paddock systems, then you could place trees on the perimeter, focussing on primarily evergreens on the North sides and apples on the east and west sides, that might make fencing them off easier, time/labor-wise.
Another idea would be to create circles of fencing, to keep animals out, and make whatever T shapes or whatnot you plan within those circles. If your do that, and throw in some deadfall branches and posts so that birds can perch, then you are likely to get some seed drop of good forage species as well.
It will take a while before apple trees or others can take brouse pressure, so just be warned now that you will not be able to let your critters in there for some time.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."-Margaret Mead "The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight but no vision."-Helen Keller
Had to scroll a WHILE in my youtube history to find this gem ABC acres is a gem check out his design he's incorporates berries and nut trees as well
Food forest tree belt- origin of design by ABC acers
I’m gonna say some stuff, not sure how I’ll come across, but you can take it or leave it.
Four sections is probably a low number. Higher density helps a lot!
In this situation, I would put on-contour swales in, and grow treelines on them. The swales should be spaced so that the bases of the trees on one swale will be at the same height as the tops of the trees on the next lowest swale when the trees are near full height. You can also plant tree lines in valleys. This will shelter every part of the pasture. This will also divide it up into useful sections for mob grazing (basically higher density rotational grazing, and even more beneficial, because all the plants are stressed equally, not just the ones cows eat.) you could build fences, or grow fences using black locust trees that you bent over and stuck the tips of into the ground. Those fences have the added benefit of being forage for cows. You could also just plant the black locusts in the treeline, as replacement fencing. (Black locust is extremely rot resistant) You could even put in some dams, especially high ones, to make watering the cows easier, and the lower dams could also be fish production, adding a whole ‘nother dimension to the production from your farm. Other extra income streams facilitated by this design include: pastured chickens, pastured turkeys, sheep, (one sheep per cow is a good ratio, and they don’t compete with cows for food, since they eat different parts of the plants, and some different plants) timber, nuts, berries, fruit, comfrey fertilizer, pigs, all kinds of crops that you could grow in pasture cells, and a lot more.
Of course, this does take money that you may or may not have right now, but hopefully it gives you some ideas.
Earthworks are the skeleton; the plants and animals flesh out the design.
Here’s good advice for practice: go into partnership with nature; she does more than half the work and asks none of the fee. – Martin H. Fischer