Livestock care is fundamental to the success and sustainability of every feedlot.
Studies have indicated there are multiple benefits for adding shade to a feedlot, particularly animal welfare improvements and productivity improvements. It has been well documented that:
Shade lowers respiration rate, panting scores and stress hormones in feedlot cattle
Both Bos taurus and Bos indicus cattle respond positively to shade
Shade alleviates discomfort, and distress during heat wave conditions
Shade improves feedlot performance.
The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) announced in 2020 an initiative to encourage all feedlots to provide cattle with access to shade. ALFA estimates that currently 63 per cent of feedlot capacity already has shade installed. ALFA’s shade initiative builds on industry’s commitment to animal welfare and continual improvement.
Long Gully started their shade journey early on, for them it was an easy decision to invest in the welfare of their cattle, and look to gain the longer-term financial benefits.
Shade enables cattle to display natural shade seeking behaviour and aids animal comfort. Cattle will naturally seek shade on hotter days. If there is no shade available, cattle can use other strategies to reduce their body’s heat load, such as panting or reducing feed intake. However, these alternative strategies can divert energy away from growth and maintaining good health.
Long Gully Feedlot Owner, Chris Gibson has seen this firsthand.
“In extreme summer periods we know any stock outside of the shaded areas display a higher pant score than those under the shed, and cattle are [now] certainly more content, which [translates] to feed consumption, feed conversion and we believe our carcass weights have increased slightly.”
Having shade in the pens is not just useful for protection from the sun, but we find there are benefits in the wetter months too, says Chris.
“We're located in a reasonably high rainfall climate, with typical winter and spring rainfall. Our long-term average would be close to 600mm,” he says.
“"We find the cattle camp in under the shed both in the warmer times, and in winter when it tends to be drier [under the shed]”
“As a result it has reduced a lot of the dags. We used to wash cattle prior to exit, and we’ve certainly eliminated that with the installation of the shed.”
Getting the design right is key to gaining maximum benefit from shade structures. For Long Gully Feedlot, this was a gable arrangement by Central Steel.
“We went with adding gables together across the pens, it's a more expensive option than a long straight gable arrangement, but it gave us the option of having columns on the fence lines and having an open span in the shed area.”
There are multiple options for shade design, including, but not limited to, retractable shades, panel designs, centre squares, and permanent structures and semi-permanent sails in a variety of thickness. Shade should be selected and designed to complement the geography of the land and the number of animals, with consideration to height and inclination for air flow, easy cleaning and pen drying.
There are other environmental and financial benefits found through shade and covered housing structures. Chris says they have found “the benefits of the water capture invaluable for supplementing their water supply; we use it for freshwater storage and field spraying mostly.
“I recommend doing your own research. Speak to other lot feeders that have fully covered systems or shade cloth.”
The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association encourages all Australian feedlots to make a pledge to provide cattle under their care with access to shade. The ALFA Shade Hub provides information and tools to assist lot feeders in determining the most appropriate shade structure for their operation.