Now’s the time to plant up for summer

Trudy and Matthew Holmes.

By Helen Thoday – DairyNZ’s Animal Care Team Manager

4 April 2018 

As we head further into winter, it’s easy to forget the sweltering heat we all experienced last summer. 

With climate change forecasts suggesting that summers are to become longer, hotter and drier in some parts of the country, the challenge of keeping our cows cool is only likely to increase.

The dairy sector is developing a reputation for planting our waterways. And while we dig in those riparians, it’s worth considering planting for shade and shelter too.

As the Chinese proverb goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Providing shade for grazing livestock is one obvious way to prevent heat stress and to contribute positively to animal welfare. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the shade of a tree on a hot day?

And as the mercury drops, trees also offer cows shelter from the cold wind and rain.

Planting a farm fortress

Many farmers, like Matthew and Trudy Holmes based in Canterbury, have been quietly planting trees to provide stock with shade and shelter.

Their 650-cow farm in Rakaia is surrounded by a fortress of trees. They’ve spent the last 20 years building up the number of trees on their property, and prove irrigation is no barrier.

“Having farmed in the Waikato, we saw the value in having trees not only for shade and shelter but aesthetics too,” Matthew says.

“We have trees around the perimeter of the property and trees for shelter in every third or fourth paddock.

“They’re trimmed off at 3m so the pivot irrigation (set at 3.8m) can go over them.”

Matthew and Trudy say their cows seek the trees out on hot and cold days.

“Our cows like to have somewhere to hide when the cold winds are blowing and on
hot days it’s not unusual to see a huge percentage of the herd standing up against the shelterbelt to get some shade,” Trudy says.

For the pair, the plantings have been a labour of love and, fortunately for Matthew, Trudy enjoys gardening.

They say the shelterbelts also act as a good biosecurity measure, providing a buffer between properties.

Trudy advises farmers looking at investing in shelterbelts to talk to their local nursery to find out which trees would work best for their farm and how to look after them to help them get established.

They’re also glad to see research into other shelter options for farmers to use asides from trees, such as miscanthus, a tall grass that grows 2-4m high and doesn’t pose a risk of damaging irrigators.

Helping hand

Not sure where to start?

It’s a good idea to take a whole-farm approach before you begin planting your trees. Think about how you would like your farm to look in future, and any other benefits you might like the trees to provide, such as soil stability and biodiversity.

To help you come up with a plan, DairyNZ (in conjunction with Landcare Research and regional councils) has produced 13 regional guides that provide information about set-back distances, planting density, plant species best-suited to the region and when to plant. The guides are available at

For more information about planting trees and the benefits, visit


Helen Thoday
Helen Thoday

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