Shade options for cattle | Living the Country Life

Shade options for cattle

Cattle need a respite from the sun when they're out on pasture all day. Prevent heat stress by providing shade. It can be anything from trees to portable shelters.

Radio interview source: Steve Higgins, Director of Animal and Environmental Compliance, University of Kentucky

Cattle out on pasture need shade to from the heat and sun. Heat stress causes a decrease in milk production, feed intake, and fertility.
Steve Higgins is the director of animal and environmental compliance at the University of Kentucky. He says natural shade from trees is by far the best option for cattle. However it can also be a double-edged sword.
"The leaves are actually transpiring water," he says. "So they're giving off this water, and it creates this micro-cooling effect underneath the tree and around the tree. It works really, really well. The problem with trees is that if the animals have access to them, what can happen is, is they can compact the soil underneath the tree and they can expose the roots. If they mess up the roots too much, basically the tree is going to die of what we call heart rot."
Trees along the southern and western edges of the pasture are ideal. But to prevent soil and manure compaction, Higgins recommends fencing off the trees so they still provide shade, but cattle don't have access to them. 
Another shade option is to build portable structures topped with 80-percent occluded cloth. Higgins says they allow you to combine best grazing management practices.
"You can move that structure from pasture-to-pasture as you move your animals with rotational grazing," says Higgins. "So you don't have to have a fixed facility in the field for providing shade. The other benefit of providing shade structures with the cloth is that you're able to move them within the field, so that when they create this depression area and this manure pack, what you can do is you can hook a gator, an ATV, or tractor, and you can pull that shade structure out of that area."
Higgins recommends a two-percent grade underneath both permanent and portable structures to allow water to drain away. Placing a thick layer of wood chips on the ground also prevents mucky conditions. 

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