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Vegetative Buffers - What Are They, And What Are Their Advantages?

Vegetative Buffers - What Are They, And What Are Their Advantages?

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

One of the topics that gets raised fairly often is what poultry farms can do to improve neighbor relations, and in this post, I'd like to talk to you about vegetative buffers in some depth.

With the continual advancement of urban sprawl and new communities encroaching into rural areas that have long been isolated parts of the countryside, it was just a matter of time before communities and poultry farms had to find creative ways of existing in relatively close proximity to each other. In this situation, vegetative buffers are an excellent way to help soften the impact, significantly improving neighbor relations on all fronts and interestingly there are even more advantages to vegetative buffers than you'd initially expect; these buffers can actually reduce your operational costs in the winter and summer months - and who wouldn't want that, right?

What Are Vegetative Buffers?

So, if you haven't heard of these before, the simplest way to explain it is that a vegetative buffer is a zone where specialized plants (one or more species) are planted in specific areas to limit the impact of one thing on another. 

On poultry farms, there are five primary reasons for planting vegetative buffers:

1. To visually obscure the farm from neighbors.

2. To catch some of the dust that's being exhausted from the ventilation fans.

3. To contain, at least to reasonable degree, pests and insects.

4. To reduce ammonia and odors in the air.

5. To minimize farm noises.

As we can see, vegetative buffers can reduce the poultry operation's impact on nearby residents and anyone passing through. Recently an additional benefit has re-emerged for using such buffers, helping the farm reduce costs and improve overall bottom line performance - bonus!

Achieving The Desired Results

As plants have developed unique characteristics to both adapt and thrive in many different situations, we can exploit their diversity, to achieve the desired aims with a bit of advance planning.

Initially, we're usually looking at what's necessary to visually obscure the farm, which is rather simple in most cases and can be achieved with deciduous and evergreen trees. Often fast growing species are planted, although depending on your aim, sometimes they're planted in combination with slower growing species. A combination of evergreens and native species can give the buffer a far more natural look while still ensuring the farm is hidden from view all year round. From my observations, a double row tree line is quite common on Delmarva, although triple row plantings are becoming increasingly popular. 

So once the farm has been visually obscured, the next key issues neighbors want addressed are usually dust and smells. When we consider that in modern poultry houses the internal environment is primarily regulated with large fans that rapidly exchange air and remove excess heat, it’s not surprising that some dust and smells get picked up and expelled as well.

Birds naturally produce a large amount of dust as a method of keeping themselves clean; as that dust comes up through the dry feather’s length, any dirt is removed at the same time. The volume of dust from all the birds in a house can be considerable, especially toward the end of the grow-out cycle because the bigger the bird, the more dust produced. As the birds grow, more body heat is generated and needs to be removed to maintain optimum growing conditions, so additional fans run more often, generating wind speeds frequently topping 700 feet per minute. This volume of air picks up some of the dust as it travels through the house and vents it out through the tunnel fans. As the air is exchanged, smells associated with raising the birds are also evacuated through the fans.

To improve conditions near the fans a combination of plants can be planted in the right pattern, to collect a majority of the dust and smells; reducing their disturbance on anyone in the vicinity. Furthermore, as the insects attracted to the farm are drawn to the smells, with the smells relatively contained, the insects tend not to venture too far away.

On Delmarva - you may have spotted I live on the Delmarva Peninsula ;-) specialized grasses typically make up the first row, planted closest to the fans, followed by a double row of evergreens that thrive in these conditions. This combination of plants also acts as a noise absorber, considerably reducing the decibel level so the degree of noise reaching the far side of the dense planting is kept to an absolute minimum, thereby further reducing the farm's impact on any nearby neighbors.

Old Technology Rediscovered

As it so happens buffer zones aren't anything new. Years ago farmers used buffers to improve the quality of life in their homes. Many farm houses were located in the center of farm fields so the farmer could have better access to his land. As this open, exposed location often caused difficulties keeping the home warm during the winter and cool in summer, buffer zones were often planted to ensure more consistent environmental stability.

On the south side of the house (in the northern hemisphere) a row of evergreens was often planted several yards from the house. This foliage blocked the cold winter winds from directly hitting the home unobstructed, but it wasn't planted too close, so there was always good air flow from the north in the summer. Additionally, planted a bit closer to the house would often be a row of deciduous trees, which filled in during the summer months providing shade and an evaporative cooling effect, and as these trees dropped their leaves during the winter, the warm rays of the sun could still reach the house’s windows which helped to ensure a good balance year round.

Not surprisingly, as environmental buffer zones gain in popularity, the energy saving benefits - both those rediscovered and others newly developed, will be incorporated into their designs more and more efficiently.

In Summary

Out of necessity caused by cities and residential developments further expanding into rural areas, many farmers realize the benefits of a technology practically forgotten. By implementing buffers along with all the new technology used on farms today, an improvement in the overall quality of people's lives and bottom line performance of poultry farms are both being achieved harmoniously.

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