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Wind from every direction

Following the weather is just a part of the job for ranchers. Knowing when and from where imminent snow storms are coming is important, but just as important is knowing what wind chill factor those winter time storms will bring and knowing that livestock have ways to escape the elements.

East or south winds can throw a kink in the normal plans, and being prepared for storms from those directions can be challenging.

Campbell County rancher Neal Sorenson says they generally see storms come from the northwest, and although sometimes the wind will shift after a storm and drift snow back from any direction, he has been pleased with the protection his wind breaks provide and never worried about portable wind panels. His in-laws from windy southern Wyoming, however, do use portable wind panels and have had great luck with them after securing them down.

While some may be concerned that the portable windbreak panels will blow over, the heavy, sturdy ones, when properly secured, should stay in place.

“Sometimes when the snow thaws and freezes again, it will ice them in so they become not portable anymore of course,” Sorenson says. “I’ve seen a guy to lift them out of the ground and it broke the pipe off because they were froze down.”

Sorenson has worked with the NRCS to put two windbreaks on winter feed grounds to protect his livestock, getting both technical assistance in the design as well as financial assistance for materials.

“We used his recommendation on what Tim (Tim Kellogg, district conservationist for the Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service Gillette Field Office) thought about it and where to put it, he looked it over before hand and then we built it and he checked to make sure we were to spec after that,” Sorenson says. “It worked good.”

Trees rows are common forms of wind protection-the NRCS recommends in Wyoming at least three rows, but five are preferred while in North Dakota, at least five rows are recommended with eight preferred. In northeast Wyoming though, it can take up to 15 years for trees to fully mature and offer adequate protection, not to mention often require a drip irrigation system and yearly maintenance. Kellogg says he tends to see ranchers take a man-made route and put up what the NRCS calls Livestock Shelter Structures. Materials vary, and shelters can be made completely of wood, although the materials require more yearly maintenance than the more common alternative, steel.

The most common structure shape that Kellogg sees in northeast Wyoming are V shaped, but wind breaks can also be semi-circle shaped or straight line structures, the best choice depends on the type of weather and terrain. A study from the University of Nebraska recommends V or L shaped structures for coverage where wind and snow come from a consistent direction and semicircle shaped for areas where weather changes direction often. The V shaped structure that the NRCS recommends consist of two walls at 90-degree angles, creating a V and is constructed by setting posts into the ground and using metal siding to create a solid face, which is what Sorenson says he used on his ranch. While temporary or portable wind breaks are available to help ranchers who are experiencing changes in weather patterns, such as more east winds when they typically see north or west winds, portable wind breaks are just as easy for the wind to move as it is for humans, Kellogg warns. Unless they are firmly chained down, he has seen them be blown great distances. Typically, Kellogg says that the amount of east winds are so rare that ranchers are better off setting up their wind blocks from the most common prevailing winds.

NRCS research shows that wind breaks could result in up to an 80 percent reduction in wind speed, but proper placement to protect livestock from prevailing winter winds while not blocking summer breezes is critical, including post diameter, spacing and structure height and length, which is why experts are available to help ranchers create and implement plans, including making site visits, regardless of whether they are enrolled in and NRCS program or not.

“Tim is a great guy and he’s helped us with a lot of these programs,” Sorenson says. “We’re lucky to have a guy in that position that understands range management and he’s a good asset for us.”

If the thermometer reads zero degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service, even a 5 mile per hour wind will result in a wind chill factor of 11 degrees below zero. At zero degrees, a 15 mile per hour wind would result in a wind chill factor of 19 degrees below zero and only take 30 minutes to cause frostbite. Of course, ranchers know that as temperatures decrease, nutrient requirements in livestock increase and under extreme low temperatures, cattle require more feed to continue to meet those requirements and maintain body condition, or even to maintain body temperature. Because of this, it’s recommended by Kellogg, that any time cattle are in a confined area with no draws, trees or other shelter from wind that there be some sort of strategically places protection.


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