Fancy a Smallholding? Plant Some Trees First

tree planting

If you’re planning to start a smallholding – a few goats or sheep, some chickens and maybe a cow – you should first think about providing them with natural shelter and shade as well as their barns and coops.

Trees perform these functions really well and they also look great. No-one wants their animals stuck indoors all day to avoid harsh or hot weather, so shade trees are a good solution, allowing them outdoor time while protecting them from the elements. Many a new smallholder is surprised by a spring storm that kills off new lambs, or is frustrated by drops in milk and egg production caused by adverse weather.

The shelter from a series of trees can lower air temperature by as much as 10 degrees in summer and it can protect young animals from driving winds and rain in winter.

It’s important to plan ahead when you’re planting shelter trees. Look at where the noon sun hits, and where the more exposed areas of your land are.

The different types of shelter

You can use shade trees as a barrier to wind and rain, as shade from sun, or as both.

A barrier shelter usually involves an evergreen species, so if you’re anywhere near Maryland you can buy container-grown Leyland cypress trees from These trees will already be several feet high when you get them, so you won’t have to wait for long for them to start “working”.

A more permeable shelterbelt can reduce wind speeds by up to 50% over distances ten times the trees’ height. This also prevents moisture loss from the ground, aiding crop and grass growth.

Deciduous or evergreen?

Both types have their pros and cons. Evergreens are tall and cast shadows in winter, leading to icy patches and darkness. However deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter and don’t provide shelter when it’s needed most. You could try beeches, as regular pruning helps them to retain their leaves over winter.

A compromise is to use deciduous trees to provide more permeable windbreaks and smaller evergreens to offer shelter nearer the ground for livestock.

Using a mixture of species is beneficial to wildlife as well as your stock as it provides a number of habitats for insects, birds and small mammals, as well as making a migration or wildlife corridor.

What are the best species to use?

Of course this depends on your area and the type of soil you have, so take advice from local nurseries and farmers. You’ll need to start off with faster-growing conifer types like Leyland cypress and Cedrus deodara.

When it comes to deciduous varieties, try poplar, Italian alder, beech and various oaks to give diversity in colour, shape and habitat, as well as protection from the spread of species-specific diseases.

Be sympathetic to the surroundings

Shelterbelts and windbreaks stand out against the landscape, so ally your design and species choices with the existing surroundings. Plant alongside a stream, or fill out a sparse avenue of trees. You could plant along terraces or valleys to complement the natural terrain please passers-by and the neighbours.

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