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Be a good neighbor, plant trees around hog farm

Kevin Schulz view of a hog barn on a farm
NATURAL BARRIER: A line or multiple lines of trees and other vegetation help mitigate the amount of odor and dust emanating from livestock facilities.
Hog Outlook: Windbreaks around livestock facilities serve many benefits to producers and neighbors.

Like a good neighbor, pig farms are there.

All too often, pig farms get a bad rap because of the smell. Some of this is warranted because pigs do smell — so do cattle, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats and humans. You get enough of anything together in one place, and you will have odor.

Pig farmers can do a lot for themselves and their neighbors to mitigate the odor emanating from barns — from specially formulated diets to pit additives to barn filters to a living barrier such as a windbreak or shelterbelt.

Even though it’s been said the best time to plant a windbreak was 10 years ago, the second best time is today.

Windbreaks, a line or two or three or nine of a variety of trees, planted around homesteads and livestock facilities serve multiple purposes.

First, a windbreak, in addition to other nice landscaping, adds “curb appeal” to any building site with or without livestock.

Also, rows of vegetation such as conifers and deciduous trees can “hide” livestock facilities. Not that livestock producers want to hide their facilities; they are proud of what they have built through hard work, blood, sweat and tears. However, livestock producers’ neighbors may wish to have the hard work hidden.

This isn’t necessarily all bad.

Odor barrier

Windbreaks satisfy not only the aesthetics of a farm site through neighbors’ eyes, but also the olfactory glands of those same neighbors.

When proper trees are selected, as well as placed and spaced properly, windbreaks have been found to reduce dust and ammonia dispersal created by livestock facilities. University of Minnesota Extension agroforestry educator Gary Wyatt, along with fellow Extension educators Shane Bugeja and Dianne DeWitte, recently presented the workshop “Windbreaks and Good Neighborship.” Wyatt shared research from one study that showed a single row of immature Leyland cypress trees reduce dust and ammonia from a poultry house by 30% and 18%, respectively.

Many other studies show similar results of vegetation mitigating the amount of odor and dust from livestock facilities.

As with anything and everything that farmers and livestock producers do, you need to have a plan, and the planting of a windbreak is no exception.

Wyatt said it is important not to “box in” your facilities, with the first row of trees at least 150 feet away from your hog barn. With considerations to setback requirements from property lines and other buildings on a site, proper spacing between tree rows and hogs barns may not be possible. This may be the reason you see livestock barns out in the open with no tree barriers.

When establishing a windbreak or shelterbelt to improve a livestock operation, producers need to consider the prevailing wind directions and annual snowfall, so as not to create a drifting issue.

Livestock producers can also go high tech, as some swine systems have electrostatic fences with high-voltage lines of barbed wire that “knock” down odor-carrying dust particles exiting barn fans.

Side benefits

In addition to mitigating odor and dust issues and improving a livestock farm’s curb appeal, windbreaks may also reduce the spread of infectious diseases, as some pathogens have been known to spread through aerosolization. Another benefit of windbreaks is that properly placed vegetation can reduce the seasonal costs of heating and cooling farm buildings while not disrupting ventilation.

It only makes sense to start planning your windbreak of the future to begin reaping all of the benefits. The key word there is “plan,” and plenty of organizations and agencies can help you decide on the proper mix of deciduous and coniferous plants to match your needs. Conifers that retain their needles provide year-round benefits. It is recommended to first consider plants native to your local area and, of course, those zoned for your growing region.

Consult with county soil and water conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, natural resources departments or Extension staff to get a recommended list of plants suitable for your area. These agencies may also assist in mapping out your windbreak and direct you to available cost-share programs.

For online resources, check these sites on windbreak and planting practices:

Schulz, a Farm Progress senior staff writer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

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