28 December 2001

Site plantings where they will provide shelter

CONSIDERING planting trees and hedges as part of a woodland grant scheme?

Instead of automatically planting them on your least productive set-aside, positioning them to shelter livestock will enhance animal performance and welfare.

After a project led by the Forestry Commission, SAC has developed a simple Farm Shelter Audit, reported in Signets Sheep and Beef Notes, says woodland adviser Simon Jacyna. "It provides an objective method of assessing existing shelter and helps identify fields where extra planting will confer the greatest benefits."

The audit takes into account local windspeed, topography, climate and the differing farming regimes of each field, he says. "Hedges are often cheaper to plant than woodland – which schemes frequently require to be 10-20yds wide with no grant available for fencing it."

Little research has been done on animal performance benefits from shelter in the UK, but international research suggests it improves production and health, says Mr Jacyna. "In New Zealand, milk production dropped by 11% when a dairy herd moved from sheltered to unsheltered grazing.

"In Scotland, unsheltered suckler cows needed 8% more feed than sheltered ones to maintain weight and their calves needed 20% more feed."

With producers keen to avoid the high cost of erecting new buildings, improving farm shelter could help maintain animal performance at lower cost, adds Mr Jacyna. &#42