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Shade crucial for beef cattle performance

08-31-2011 08:52 AM CET | Science & Education

Press release from: American Society of Animal Science

For cattle producers plagued with summer heat waves, researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have good news.

According to a recent study of Angus heifers, cattle with access to shade during summer heat may be 25 percent more profitable than cattle without shade. Providing cattle with just 2 m2 of shade showed significant improvements. The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

“Access to even limited shade improved the performance and welfare of short-fed feedlot cattle relative to unshaded cattle during periods of hot weather,” said study co-author Dr. John Gaughan in an interview. Gaughan is a researcher in the school of agriculture and food sciences at the University of Queensland.

For the experiment, the researchers exposed 126 Black Angus yearling heifers to varying amounts of shade for 119 days. The cattle were given 0, 2.0, 3.3, or 4.7 m2 of shade per animal. The cattle were then evaluated dry matter intake and rump fat depth; measurements that indicate beef production. At the end of the experiment, cattle given even limited shade showed better performance.

Gaughan said that heat stress is an ongoing problem during summer days, but warm nights are a problem as well.

“For example, an animal standing in full sun during the middle of a summer heat wave
may be exposed to an air temperature of 95 oF, which is hot enough; however, when you add in the ‘heat’ from the sun the real temperature to which that animal is exposed could be as high as 122 oF,” said Gaughan. “The ground heat continues to radiate out at night, which reduces the animals’ ability to lose heat at night. This means that the cattle will commence the next day already hot.”

Gaughan said the best types of shade structures are high enough from the ground to
allow air circulation and tractor access for cleaning. There should be enough space for all animals to access shade if they want to, without being clumped together. When given shade, cattle do take advantage of it. Gaughan said cattle in this study were observed standing in the shade for eight to ten hours a day.

Of course, constructing shaded areas costs money. To give the animals just 2m2 of shade, the researchers calculated a cost of $58.75 per animal for shade cloth and building supplies. Gaughan encouraged producers to talk to their extension specialists in see if shade will be a good investment.

“Shade is in many ways like insurance, you may only have a problem one summer out of five,” Gaughan said.

Gaughan’s study shows that for producers in hot areas, the shade “insurance” may pay off.

This study was titled “Effect of shade area on performance and welfare of short-fed feedlot cattle.” It can be read in full at jas.fass.org.

Media Contact:

Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

MadelineMS@assochq.org / 217-239-3321 ext. 121

The ASAS fosters the discovery, sharing and application of scientific knowledge concerning the responsible use of animals to enhance human life and well-being.

American Society of Animal Science
2441 Village Green Place
Champaign, IL 61822

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