Keys To Shade Success
Offering properly designed and positioned shade structures can make a big difference in a feed yard setting.
It’s no surprise that airflow and shade can help alleviate heat stress in livestock. Shade can decrease the core body temperature and respiration rate of cattle by reducing solar radiation. And placed in areas where the airflow is adequate, shade can reduce heat stress significantly. Windbreaks are great in the winter but can hinder the airflow in the summer months. Thus placement and design of shades is important.
According to the USDA, orienting the longest axis of the shade in a north-to-south direction will maximize the amount of shaded area, east to west, and will allow sunlight to dry the ground under the structure. A slight pitch will allow for runoff and anchoring the shade with materials of adequate size and strength for local wind conditions is important.
Smaller, multiple structures are encouraged so cattle don’t bunch up under one shaded area. Portable structures are also a benefit so they can be moved as necessary, depending on conditions.
Dan Thomson, PhD, DVM and founder of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University said the most effective heat stress preventative for black-hided cattle is shade. “Shades can be sturdy, permanent structures, or mobile, portable structures,” he said. “The shade portion of the structure does not need to be solid.”
The benefits of shade for cattle are no different than providing shade for outdoor workers. When given the choice, University of California- Davis professor Dr. Frank Mitloehner reported that cattle with access to shade spent the majority of daylight hours under the shade.
Knowing shade is a preferred area for livestock, Larry Myers with Strobel Manufacturing conducted a ground temperature test under a shade product his company developed, the Strobel Super Shade. On a hot day in July, the ground temperature ranged from 137 degrees to 147 degrees in the sunlight. Under the shade, the temperature dropped to 103 degrees.
The temperature difference is not surprising, and Mitloehner’s research backed up the performance advantages shade offered. Shaded animals had higher dry matter intake, gained more weight, had better average daily gain and more efficient conversion.
Myers said cattlemen are investing in shades due to the number of livestock lost in extreme heat. “I was talking to a customer who lost 60 head of cattle one year,” he said. “After talking to his insurance adjuster, he has added shades in his pens. People are taking heat stress seriously.”
When considering purchasing or building a shade structure, Myers said to think about the structure throughout the year. A structure that limits sunlight during winter or wet months will slow the drying time in the pens. However a shade structure that can be moved and has a rollup tarp is a real advantage in that it will not limit sunlight during certain times of year when it is needed.
In addition to the type of structure, USDA also recommends 20 to 40 square feet of shaded area per head so that improvements in animal comfort from shade are not offset by overcrowding.
If it’s not possible to offer shade in all pens, Thomson suggested prioritizing shade for pens affected most by heat stress – those with large cattle.
“Those are the ones that need care and consideration first.”
Myers said although shade in every feed yard pen is not the “new normal” yet, it is catching on, and is definitely a way to protect the investment of livestock and maintain efficiency and gains in the hot winter months.