Made in the shade? Cattle respond to covered pens

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On a hot day, cattle prefer shade. Observing the obvious led to research on the benefits of providing shade in open pens, even before the era of large-scale cattle feeding.

That research continues, ongoing today at Pratt (Kan.) Feeders, a 40,000-head, quality-focused feedyard managed by Jerry Bohn. He noted in last year’s profile on winning a Certified Angus Beef ® Quality Focus Award that shades were added to some pens to assess the cost/benefit on cattle already stressed by widespread drought.

More recently, Bohn addressed the Feeding Quality Forum Aug. 22 in Garden City, Kan.

“We had a little death loss each of the last three years due to heat,” Bohn said. Last year was the worst, and prompted him to hire an Iowa contractor to build five shades straddling 10 pens, at the cost of $15,000 each. The 50- by 48-foot steel frames have canvas covers with a heat escape vent in the center, all supported by three 24-inch steel poles.

Up to 150 cattle found relief under each structure during the hottest days. Last winter a 17-inch snowfall did not cause problems, but there was significant storm damage this summer from 110-mph winds.

A research project with Kansas State University this year included a veterinary student working at the yard all summer, and that study is in its summary stage now. Preliminary results were shared on groups of cattle that were sorted a month to six weeks before marketing.

“Sorting the cattle as equally and randomly as we could, we put one group under the shades and one in the regular feedlot pens,” Bohn said. “We then measured feed intake, average daily gain and feed conversion, and later gathered carcass data from National Beef.”

In highlighting basic results, the cattle feeder said he was surprised there was not much difference in feedlot performance with or without shade.

“What we did see in four of the six groups was a pretty good difference in packing plant performance,” Bohn reported. “That generally favored the cattle in the shade and it came from hot yield as well as quality grade [see table].”

From an animal welfare standpoint, he added, “I think we have to continue to look at these kinds of things as an industry. Sometimes I think we’ll be forced to do things in the future that might not have good economic reasons, but you’ve got to do it the right way.”

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