To shade or not to shade?
With the extremely short transition from winter to Summer in the Northeast, and the extreme drought in the South West over the last couple of years, many producer have been struggling with the question of how much shade do my cattle need?
I recently read an article about research that was done in Australia where drought, heat and wild fires have also been a big problem for a long time. Researchers looked at the effect of shade on body temperature and overall performance of cattle, primarily in feed-lots where shade isn’t usually even offered!
164 "Angus" steers were separated into 20 pens. 10 of the pens were shaded with an 80% solar block shade cloth, and 10 pens were left un-shaded. Water and dry matter consumption were closely monitored and measured as was body temperature every 30 minutes via an implanted transmitter. Ah! Modern technology. I guess it’s better than being the guy or gal that needs to do continual rectal temperatures on 164 cattle for 120 day’s! And some of us thought milking 2 or 3 times a day was fatiguing!
After the 120 day study, the cattle were harvested and data was collected. The shaded cattle had heavier "hot" carcass weights. That is because the shaded cattle also showed to have higher dry matter intake, average daily weight gain and gain-to-feed ratio. It (the shade), didn’t however effect the loin muscle area, fat depth or marbling score of the carcasses. The un-shaded cattle did consume 51% less feed.
So if your looking to create a comfortable living arrangement for your cattle and not just looking for way’s to cut feed cost’s this summer, shade your cattle. Give them the option to find relief. If the option is there you can take the guesswork out of trying to figure out if your cattle need shade or not. If they seek comfort/shade than obviously they need it, right? It just like during the cold temperatures of February and March for most of us this past "Polar Vortex" of a winter.
We have had both Pure-bred Red Angus & Full-blooded Beefalo cattle on our farm, and when winter is dishing out it’s worst the Angus are the first ones in the barn. The BEEFALO are the last one to seek shelter if at all. What I’m saying is, some breeds of cattle are able to adapt to extreme conditions because they have been in one environment or region for many generations. If you buy cattle from outside your local region, you need to expect them to have some difficulty adjusting.
Another cold weather breed that is winter hardy by genetics are Highland cattle. Just looking at them and there "coat" is an obvious indicator. The same is true on the other end of the temperature scale. Senepol cattle evolved on the Caribbean Island of St. Croix when N'Dama cattle were imported for Senegal, West Africa in the 1800's. The island of St. Croix is the largest and southernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, located approximately 1,200 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. Now that’s HOT! The N'Dama, a Bos taurus breed, was well suited for the Caribbean because of its heat tolerance, insect and disease resistance and ability to thrive on poor quality forage.
Shade is not often conveniently placed for rotational grazing systems. Often some paddocks have shade while others do not. The following alternatives can be used for shade in a rotational grazing system.
- Natural shade is the lowest cost alternative, but is not often in the proper location and care must be taken to avoid killing trees with too high a cow density. Strategic plantings can be used over time to create a natural shade environment. Placing shade trees on the west side of pasture areas is most desirable.
- Permanent shade can be provided by constructing barns or sheds, but is not often in the proper location in the grazing system and can be costly.
- Portable, low-cost shades can be built from 2.5" pipe and welded into a frame sturdy enough to take the abuse from cattle. For rotational grazing, the frames can be made portable and moved with the animals, or moved to different locations to avoid high manure build-up in a particular location. For covering, shade cloth will allow air movement while providing shade. Use 80% shade cloth for such structures. Another option that provides additional insulation value and complete shade is to use sheet metal or woven wire with straw or
hay for insulation. However, the construction and maintenance of these type roofs for portable shades is greater. Frames should have a skid-type bottom member to allow moving from paddock to paddock if necessary. Dimensions of 10'x20' are practical maximums for portable shade size.