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Out of Sight, Out of Mind, the many benefits to windbreaks

September 21, 2009

Windbreaks also known as sheltersbelts are defined as single or multiple row plantings of trees and shrubs that are planted for environmental purposes. Windbreak plantings are used to reduce erosion, protect growing plants, alter microenvironment to enhance plant growth, manage snow, delineate field boundaries, protect structures and livestock, provide wildlife habitat, enhance aesthetics, increase carbon storage, reduce noise, and intercept chemical drift. And I didn’t even mention the out of sight, out of mind benefit. Windbreaks make perfect “living screens” which help improve the aesthetics of an operation and shield things that the general public doesn’t like to see. Windbreaks can be planted around manure storages, compost piles, and a long the exhaust fan side of livestock production facilities. This is especially important for poultry producers because the exhaust air tends to be higher in ammonia, creating an “offensive” odor.

I am going to address the use of a windbreak around manure storages, compost piles, and livestock facilities. Trees and shrubs absorb gaseous ammonia, slow air speed(which helps dust to settle out) and deflects the odors up into the atmosphere. Plants have the ability to absorb gaseous ammonia, which can lead to higher growth rates, but there is a critical threshold where too much ammonia can cause the tissue cells to die. Dead tissue cells lead to reduced growth and hardiness. These windbreaks also can reduce noise up to 50% and they improve the the visual perception of any facility. People don’t tend to smell things they can’t see. So by blocking the view of your manure storage or compost pile you can reduce the number of smell complaints. Windbreaks are great for your neighbor relations. These windbreaks also help filter and capture nutrients from run-off. These are nutrients that normally would run into surface water or leach into the groundwater.


When actually planting the windbreak, you will want to choose several different species of trees and shrubs. This helps to prevent the loss of the whole windbreak if pests or diseases infect the windbreak. In addition you should aim to have both deciduous and evergreen trees. Evergreens mature slower, but they also hold their needles during the winter months. Windbreaks should be planted atleast 50 feet from the sidewalls and 80 feet from the ends of a livestock facility. This allows for equipment access and if the plants are any closer to the ventilation fans the leaves will dry out from the high wind speeds.

For more detailed information on windbreaks and how to design one contact your local NRCS or visit:

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