Cattle have a strong biological drive to seek shade. It not only helps Bos taurus cattle escape thermal discomfort, but Bos indicus cattle also benefit from shade found through productivity and welfare.
The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA), as the peak national body representing the Australian cattle feedlot industry, are working towards delivering a profitable and sustainable feedlot industry - recognised and valued by the community for producing quality certified grain fed beef to the highest ethical, environmental, humane and animal welfare standards.
ALFA is proud to have a strong membership base who collectively represent almost 90 per cent of Australia’s cattle feedlot capacity. There are close to 390 cattle feedlots with a combined capacity of 1.4 million head, who employ 2,000 people directly in regional Australia. ALFA estimates that currently 63 per cent of feedlot capacity already has shade installed.
Meat & Livestock Australia funded a project in 2007/2008 to review animal welfare benefits of shade. Observational evidence from Australian lot feeders indicated that cattle experience bouts of excessive heat load, are more susceptible to bovine respiratory disease post a heat stress event, as well as feed intake variation. Feed intakes of severely affected cattle may never recover. This study produced evidence that:
Shade lowers respiration rate, panting score and stress hormones in feedlot cattle
Shade alleviates de-hydration of cattle
Both Bos taurus and Bos indicus cattle can respond to shade
Shade alleviates mortality, fear and distress during heat wave conditions
Shade improves feedlot performance
With this in mind, ALFA announced an initiative to encourage all feedlots to provide cattle with access to shade. The hot, dry, wet, and sunny Australian climate makes this initiative relevant across all regions.
ALFA recently spoke with Tom Hanrahan of Ovens Junction Pastoral Company, to discover how they came about implementing shade/shelter at their feedlot, situated just outside Rutherglen in Victoria.
“We looked into shade because we'd had significant amount of time with a previously unshaded feedlot, we knew some of the troubles that could be caused from heat stress and wet winters.
“In summer we have extended periods above 40 degrees Celsius and 22 inches of rainfall - which is fairly high - and that’s where the sheds have come in really handy”.
ALFA’s shade initiative builds on industry’s commitment to animal welfare and continual improvement. For Ovens Junction, “the biggest advantages of shade definitely comes from cattle temperament and their welfare, their feed conversion efficiencies are better - I'd have to say probably close to 10% improvement”.
Shade enables cattle to display natural shade seeking behaviour and aids animal comfort.
“We landed on hay sheds because we saw that our cattle on a hot day out in a paddock could be found inside an abandoned old hay shed we had – every single one of them.
“We thought that was significant because even though they had a choice of trees, dams, natural shade, they all picked the shed – that was all the evidence we needed, we were convinced this model was going to work.”
So that’s what they did. They went about “erecting simple, off the plan hay sheds, with no customization, that allowed us to keep the costs down,” Tom said.
Getting the design right is key to gaining maximum benefit from shade structures. Design objectives to take into consideration include providing adequate shade per animal, a sound and durable structure designed to suit the geography, minimising obstructions, maximising airflow and drying ability.
For Ovens Junction this was found through sheds. “We went with Telford's because we were able to get a really quick quote, and they put the sheds up really quickly.
“I think we waited maybe four weeks for them to be manufactured and then they put them up in three days per shed.
“We're shading about 15% of each pen, which gives these cattle about 2.2 square meters under the shed if they want to use it, and you'll find they live under there most of the time.
“Other benefits we are seeing are water collection and a reduction in pen surface that gets wet during a rain event, that obviously reduces smell, flies, a lot of other impacts that come from weather that's damp and cold for a period of time.
“The twelve sheds would harvest close to two and a half megalitres a year. The return on investment of a shed like this, in the pen for shade, we believe is under 12 months,” Tom explains.
With increased animal welfare, superior product and countless other benefits, ALFA encourages all Australian feedlots to make a pledge to provide cattle under their care with access to shade. There are many resources available, you can start your shade journey here at the ALFA Shade Hub, where you will find information and tools to assist with determining the most appropriate shade structure for your operation.