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Importance of Shade for Cattle

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 7:45am

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension service.

Amy: Today we're talking about the importance of shade for cattle. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Jane Parish, Mississippi State University Extension service research professor. Jane, shade is extremely important, especially here in Mississippi. What's the importance of shade in cattle operations?

Jane Parish: Amy, the importance of shade is really two-fold. On the one hand, it really gets at cattle comfort, so we definitely want our animals to not be stressed, to be out there and be productive for us. And that's just good animal husbandry, so providing adequate shade from the standpoint of reducing heat stress, is just good animal management.

Now, on the productivity side, it's also important as well. And we know one thing that's been seen over and over throughout the years in the research arenas, when cattle get really heat stressed during the summer, the reproductive performance can go down. That's one example. When cattle get very heat stressed, they may eat less, and if they're eating less, they're going to gain less weight. So from those standpoints, you can actually improve your production if you're making those cattle comfortable and letting them to get out there and do what they need to be doing, which is grazing.

Amy: What are the different types of shade for cattle?

Jane Parish: So, there are several ways that we can classify shade. One of them is just natural shade versus man-made shade. So natural shade is, of course, trees. And we've got to be a little bit careful with trees, because if you have too few trees, cattle can be pretty tough on the trees and may actually damage or kill those trees over time. So natural shade can be great, but it takes some time to develop. If you're planting some trees in the pasture trying to develop some natural shade, you're going to have to protect them from the livestock to really get them ready where they can withstand the traffic of the livestock. So have an adequate shade and the number of trees is important.

Man-made shade, it may be a shed, a barn, it may be just some type of a portable shade structure. It could be shade cloth. There are a lot of different ways that you can do that. And then another way that we can classify shade is whether it's permanent or whether it's portable. So if it's permanent, it's fixed in one point, like a tree or, say, a structure that's not movable. But you can also have portable shade that's maybe on skids or something that can be moved to different locations in a pasture or paddock. And that really gives you a lot of flexibility as to where you have shade. And you can move it from one paddock to another.

Amy: When providing shade, we have to do it correctly, right?

Jane Parish: That's right. You can actually do more damage than good if you have too little shade. It's almost better to have no shade than too little shade. And the reason for that is because what cattle will do is they will congregate underneath that shade, and so if you get too many animals underneath limited shade, they're going to be sharing body heat. There's not going to be enough ventilation to move that heat away from those animals and they may actually wind up being hotter than they would have been. And you'll get an area that may be trampled and get really muddy compared to some other areas.

So if we have adequate shade, we want to have plenty of it. For cows, they're going to need more shade than smaller animals, just because they're larger. So a good rule of thumb's maybe at least 30 to 40 square feet per head for mature cows that are out on pasture. And we want to make sure, if we're using shade cloth, that we're using shade cloth that's at least 80% shade cloth or higher than that.

Another thing we want to make sure is when we have a shade structure that has a roof, that the roof is high enough that it's not so low down that it's actually radiating heat onto those cattle. So a lot of them will be 10 feet, 14 feet. Occasionally, you'll get one that'll be as low as 7 feet, but that starts to get pretty low and may not be as effective as some of those more elevated. You want to have air circulation's really what you want to get at.

Amy: Yes. And the location of the shade is really important too.

Jane Parish: That's right. It affects pasture utilization, so if you have your shade and your water and your feed trough all in one part of the pasture, the cattle are going to kind of hang out there. So if you want to spread them out throughout the pasture, you kind of separate those different components of the paddock and they'll better utilize the pasture. And you may want to have shade in several different locations, again just to give those cattle multiple options that they can locate. And to reduce the mud that you're going to get when those cattle trample under the shade.

So another thing about shade location is to keep in mind what direction's East and what direction's West. Where the sun's coming and going throughout the day. So if you place shade along a fence line, and the sun comes over, and the afternoon sun is actually putting that shade in the paddock next to where the shade structure is, you've got to know that ahead of time. So you may want to place it on the opposite side of the pasture. And same thing with your trees. Making sure that you know where's the shadow going to be cast at different times of the day, and how does that fit your management program?

Amy: Today we're speaking with Jane Parish, Extension research professor. I'm Amy Taylor and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension service.


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