The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) has announced an initiative to encourage all feedlots to provide cattle with access to shade.
ALFA’s shade initiative builds on industry’s commitment to animal welfare and continual improvement.
Shade enables cattle to display natural shade seeking behaviour and aids animal comfort.
Getting the design right is key to gaining maximum benefit from shade structures.
As one of the oldest feedlots in the country, it’s no surprise that innovation, animal and staff welfare, and the end consumer are at the forefront of operations at Killara.
Located west of Quirindi on the Liverpool Plains of New South Wales, Killara Feedlot was developed in 1969 when the Australian feedlot industry was just starting to emerge, and since then the Elders-owned facility has expanded to a 20,000-head capacity.
Killara’s cattle are sourced from locations throughout central and northern New South Wales, but key to their business model is that all the cattle they buy must have a customer to be sold to; this sees Killara operate a number of programs, ranging from domestic for the supermarkets, through to long-fed Wagyu.
Part of the operation’s enduring success has been the installation of shade structures, a process which began almost 20 years ago and now sees all pens have shade erected, allowing all cattle under their care to have access to shade 365 days of the year.
General Manager Andrew Talbot said they wouldn’t be able to run a feedlot of that size, in that part of the country, without shade.
“The Liverpool Plains is quite unique; in one respect you could say it’s neither a northern climate nor a southern climate – it’s very much in between,” he said.
“What that means is we can quite often get good summer rain and we will often get southern rain in the winter months as cold fronts come through.
“The challenges that that causes is in summer this can be quite humid and very hot, and the feedlots on the Liverpool Plains experience several 40-degree days followed by quite a bit of humidity if storm fronts come through.”
Andrew said the way in which they manage heat load in the feedlot has certainly changed during his time at Killara, but what has remained steadfast is the principle that “heat load management in any feedlot is absolutely critical”.
“Typically, on the Liverpool Plains in January, there will be more 40-degree days than 30-degree days and underneath the shade could be 5 to 8 degrees cooler than out in the open.
One of the considerations about providing shade is that it can remain wet on the feedlot floor during winter or long periods of rain if sunlight isn’t made available to dry the ground out. Industry, and commercial businesses like Elders, have been working on practical solutions that address this.
“All of the pens have a range of shade types; you’ve got the newer ones which are metal structures that have wire cabling and tin slats, and the tin is all separated by around 200-300mm to allow the sun to get through that gap onto the ground to dry it out.
“The old shade that we had here was a traditional shade cloth; it needs to be retracted in winter and then put out in summer, so there’s a lot of work involved in that.
“Those shade structures get a lot of weather damage - high wind and storms will often result in ripping and damage - so as a company we’ve gone down the line of installing permanent metal structures and designed them in a way to throw the maximum shade and also allow the sunlight to get through the slats to dry the ground underneath.”
It’s without doubt a significant undertaking and capital investment, but one which Andrew believes is imperative to animal welfare and business success.
Key to ensuring the investment is maximised, Andrew says, is doing the research beforehand and carefully choosing the direction the shade structure will run.
“The whole area of pen isn’t shade, partly because of cost. What we try to do is have a slight tilt on the shade to allow the sun to throw a larger shadow.
“Shades we find here work better when they’re north-south, not west-east, and as the sun moves from the east to the west it allows the shade to be thrown possibly two to three times as big as the shade structure itself.”
Ultimately, Andrew said there are positives and negatives to shade structures of any type, but in the end “it’s all about animal welfare”.
“That’s why so many more companies are now investing in shade technology for feedlots. New developments are seeing some southern feedlots use shedding or like in our case, exploring permanent shade structures that are waterproof, allowing pens to stay dry but still ensuring airflow.
“It’s an interesting time with a lot of things to consider, but fundamentally it’s about caring for the cattle and ensuring our cattle can handle heat events and still continue to perform.
“I have no doubt shade is fundamental to cattle welfare, which is why we have decided to be proactive and meet community and customer expectations, and at the same time have a more sustainable and profitable business.”
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.
Lot Feeder Resources:
Visit the ALFA Shade Hub for useful resources.
Download a copy of MLA’s Beef cattle feedlots: design and construction manual.
The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) is the peak national body representing the Australian cattle feedlot industry and works 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 over 80 per cent of Australia’s cattle feedlot capacity.
There are 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 60 per cent of feedlot capacity already has shade installed.