- Livestock can usually cope fairly well with either rain or wind or cold temperatures.
- When two or more of these conditions occur together, livestock can quickly become chilled.
- If they get so cold that they shiver, their requirement for feed increases hugely, and if they don’t get extra feed they soon lose weight.
What livestock need shelter most?
- The animals that really need shelter are the old and the young, the newly-shorn and the fine-skinned, those in thin body condition and those that are not well.
- This is true whatever the species - horses, ponies, cattle, sheep, deer, goats or alpacas.
- Goats are particularly susceptible to cold because they have little fat under the skin and their coat is not waterproof.
- It’s best not to tether goats, as they are social and prefer company. If you do tether your goat, your tethered goat must at all times have access to a dry shelter that provides protection from the sun, rain, and extremes of heat and cold.
- Goats are not the tough hardy creatures many people take them for!
- Horses need shelter from cold wet windy weather.
- Horses usually appreciate a cover in winter, especially thoroughbred types.
- Covers should be waterproof and fitted correctly so that they don’t chafe.
- The horse’s skin and body condition under the cover should be checked frequently.
Newborns need shelter
- Newborn animals are very vulnerable to bad weather. The odds are stacked against their survival when they are exposed to bad weather.
- Rain, wind and cold temperatures together make a lethal combination.
- Providing pregnant livestock with good shelter around the time of birth is like taking out an insurance policy. With effective shelter, the odds of the newborns surviving are improved hugely.
- Relatively small newborn animals (eg twins, triplets) are especially vulnerable to cold conditions.
- It is very important that ewes, cows and does that are likely to have two or more offspring have plenty of feed and good shelter as their due date approaches.
- Lamb covers can provide useful protection from wet windy weather.
- Lamb covers must fit comfortably and they shouldn’t flap or rustle to frighten the mother.
- Monitor closely lambs with covers on to make sure they don’t get tangled.
Shorn sheep need shelter
- Newly-shorn sheep need good feed for at least 6 weeks after shearing, and in bad weather they need shelter.
- Using a cover or lifter comb, or shearing with blades can help prevent cold stress, because it leaves a short length of wool to provide some insulation.
- Don’t shear pregnant ewes in winter unless you use a cover comb, have good pasture (up to 50% more than before) and plenty of effective shelter from the time of shearing until after lambing.
- There are several reasons why some farmers shear pregnant ewes in winter.
- Shearing boosts the ewes’ metabolic rate, and this helps prevent sleepy sickness (see ‘Metabolic diseases’).
- Shearing can increase the birth weight and survival rate of lambs.
- Shearing makes it less likely that ewes will become “cast” helplessly on their backs like turtles - this can be a hazard for heavily pregnant woolly ewes.
- Shorn ewes tend to seek shelter, so when they have lambed they take their vulnerable young lambs with them to benefit from the shelter too.
- Note that with a bare belly, shorn or crutched ewes will be reluctant to lie down on cold ground, so their very young lambs will not be able to shelter by lying alongside and downwind in rough weather. This is another reason why they need shelter.
- To realise the benefits of prelamb shearing, ewes must be provided with good feed and extra shelter.
Shelter - when and what to plant?
- Winter is a good time to plant trees and shrubs to provide effective shelter and shade for years to come.
- There are many and varied types of shelter plant from low dense flax to native bush, from conifers like macrocarpa and pine to deciduous poplars and willows.
- You might like fast-growing species, or species that can be harvested for firewood.
- Trees like ash, poplar and tree lucerne can be harvested for stock food.
- You may need both dense low shrubs and trees to provide long-term shelter at stock level, and taller trees to slow the wind.
- Fallen branches from macrocarpa trees have been associated with abortion in cows that browsed on the foliage.
Ineffective shelter belts
- Many so-called shelter belts are ‘dysfunctional’.
- They often have so many gaps at stock level that they are not effective windbreaks.
- They might be sited on poorly drained ground so that the lee side becomes muddy with use.
- There may be insufficient shelter for the stock that want to use it so that the sheltered area becomes overused, muddy and a disease risk.
- Short belts may be ineffective, and shelter may need to be continuous on at least two sides of the paddock.
- You will need to fence both sides of the trees.
Get advice from an expert
- It pays to get advice from an expert about the best shelter plants for your area to meet your requirements.
- It’s worth getting it right at the outset, because well-established and well-planned shelter belts are a great asset on any farm and will reap dividends for generations to come.
Shade in summer too!
- Another benefit of some types of trees in and around paddocks is that they can offer stock shade from the sun.
- Shade can provide welcome relief when it is hot.
- Shade also helps prevent skin damage when there is a risk of facial eczema, and it can provide relief for sheep and cattle that already have facial eczema.
- Wind shelter evergreen belts are best oriented north-south. Deciduous should be east-west for best summer shade.
- Because an effective shelter belt of trees and shrubs takes years to establish, you can put up temporary shelter, especially in paddocks where there are very young animals or newly shorn animals.
- Wind netting secured tightly to the fence on the windward side of the paddock can be effective.
- If you are storing big bales of hay or baleage, they could be lined up close to but outside the fence.
- Arranging bales of hay in the paddock in pairs in a V-shape angled into the prevailing wind provides good shelter for smaller grazing animals.
- Written by: Dr Marjorie Orr, lifestyle farmer and veterinarian (retired)