Victorian Volcanic Plains Conservation Management Network

Raising awareness about the value and use of native grasslands, seasonal wetlands, grassy woodlands & other ecosystems on the Victorian Volcanic Plains

Shelterbelts – Lost land or a gross gain?

tree-guardThis article has been taken with permission from the February 2017 Corangamite Lakes Landcare Area Newsletter. If you are interested in carrying out any revegetation in this landcare network area, contact Rod Eldridge 0458 390 146.

Since purchasing their farm at Weering in 2001, Caroline and Karl McEwan have undertaken an extensive tree planting program with the aim of providing shade and shelter for their Angus herd.  Being a vet, Caroline fully understands the benefits of their efforts.  “Just like you or I, stock don’t like to be subjected to extreme heat. It affects their growth rates, milk production, and if joining their conception rates too. It can also lead to slipping or aborting of calves. Have a look at what stock do when they have access to shade, they prefer to get out of the sun.  Wouldn’t you?”

Their plantings have truly transformed the place, and being a small property doesn’t deter them. “When we first came here, there were only three small mature plantations on 100 acres. Our aim was to create plantations on at least two fence lines in each  of our 12 paddock so stock can get out of extreme weather on every part of the farm” said Caroline. “Some view the tree planting as sacrificing good pasture or a loss of productive land. However we find overall it improves the productivity of the farm.

Shelter means the stock are warmer in winter and it has reduced the amount of fodder stock need just to stay warm.  Provision of shade reduces heat stress on the stock in summer.  Very young calves or recently dropped calves can be particularly susceptible to heat stress and suffer dehydration, which may require veterinary intervention.  Stock with shade drink less water trying to cool themselves, and as we are on town water supply this reduces the water bill considerably”.

“We slowly chip away, planting about 400 trees, or 400 metres a year. This number means we can manage our soil preparation for the trees, and keep a close eye on weeds for the first two years” said Caroline. “We plant a diverse mix of Manna Gums, Swamp Gums, Redgums, Blackwoods, Sheoaks, and quite a few shrubs. In particular spots, such a low lying wet areas, we have to be selective of which species we plant.” They have found that a diverse mix of trees creates a better shelterbelt, it attracts a wider variety of birdlife and the place also looks a lot nicer. If one species doesn’t perform well there are plenty of others to fill the space.

“Most years we have a really good survival rate, and this has definitely improved as we have got better.  Our 8 and 10 year old kids are expert tree planters!” Caroline suggests that “we have planted enough trees in the last decade that if we sell the farm we will have to advertise it as 100 acres partially cleared. But we still run just as many cattle as when we first came here”.

In the greater scheme of things Caroline and Karl are also helping to mitigate climate change, with their recent plantings funded by the Australian Government’s 20 Million Trees Program to sequester carbon. “The long term trend of hotter summers that we are experiencing will continue. It’s better to start preparing for it now than react later on, as trees take time to grow” said Caroline.

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