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What Is a Windbreak?

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  • Written By: Christian Petersen
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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A windbreak is a wall-like planting of trees, cultivated specifically for the purpose of shielding something from winds that could be damaging or in an attempt to conserve energy. Many types of trees can be used for windbreaks, and a windbreak may shelter fields planted with crops or help protect or shield livestock, buildings, or recreational areas. In areas where winters can be severe, a windbreak may also serve as a kind of natural snow fence, helping to prevent snow drifts from blocking roads or walkways.

For centuries, farmers have planted windbreaks to shield fields from damaging winds. Traditionally, fast-growing trees with upright, dense growth have been used as windbreaks. Many species of trees and shrubs are suitable for this purpose and the ones used may vary according to region and the size desired for the windbreak at maturity. Some windbreaks, especially those that protect buildings, which are often called farmstead windbreaks, are usually not as tall as those used for shielding fields, which are also called field windbreaks.

A good field windbreak will shield and protect a field for a distance up to 30 times its height. This distance is measured from the base and protection decreases as distance from the windbreak increases. This can help reduce crop damage, catch wind-blown debris, and reduce soil loss due to wind erosion. Many crops, including grains, corn, and orchard crops can benefit from this protection.

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Livestock can also benefit from windbreaks. Farm animals that spend time outdoors in winter conditions greatly benefit from protection from winter winds. This protection can also extend to buildings and areas where livestock is kept. Animals protected in such a way may convert more food to body mass instead of converting it to energy for warmth. Increased survival of young animals can also be a benefit of protecting livestock with windbreaks.

Farmstead windbreaks can help reduce energy bills by shielding homes and other buildings from cold prevailing winds during the winter. Some studies indicate that savings on energy used for heating can approach as much as 15% when buildings are protected in such a way. A windbreak can also help protect a building's exterior, shielding it from abrasion by wind-blown particles such as sand or other debris.

This kind of barrier can help prevent snow from drifting onto roads or even airport runways. A thick, mature windbreak can also act as a sound barrier, helping to reduce noise from ground level sources such as traffic and heavy machinery. Wildlife can also benefit, as the trees provide a habitat for birds, deer, and other animals. Mature windbreaks can be a source of valuable natural resources such as poles or quality lumber.

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