How important is shade for your cattle?


Last summer (2011) was a “killer” of a season because of the dry weather and high temperatures. In my area (between Abilene and San Angelo, Texas) records were set for the number of consecutive 100 degree + days. At the year’s end, the tally of 100 degree days at San Angelo was 100 days, beating the previous mark of 60 days set in 1969! At Abilene, triple digits were recorded 81 times, smashing the previous record of 46 set in 1934.
To date, the summer of 2012 has not been quite as hot, but, as August begins, we are back under a high pressure dome and for the last several days with temperatures in the “triple digits.” Forecasts for the next seven days expect temperatures in the 102 to 107 degree range and no rain in sight.

Triple digit temperatures are hard on cattle.
Cautions and precautions have been given for humans and pets, but what about those cattle out in the pasture? Is it important to provide a place for them to get into the shade? I believe so, and reading articles about the importance of shade for cattle, the experts agree. It is important to provide shade for cattle in extreme heat.
Information on the importance of providing shade for cattle is provided in an online article:
Trees in Pastures: Do Cattle Benefit from Shade? written by Steve Sharrow, Oregon State University.
In most of my pastures, cattle do not have a problem in finding shade – mesquite trees are plentiful and do provide shade, although they do also suck the moisture right out of the soil! But, I, and some of my neighbors do have improved pastures where there is no shade. One neighbor has had the foresight to construct a “shed” in his improved pasture. He used salvage material, trusses, etc., from an old service station torn down in town. But, he still had to purchase sheet metal for the top, so the cost of the shed was substantial. He considered covering the shed with shade cloth, but with the winds we normally have, decided the sheet metal was the better way to go.

Cattle gather under the provided shade during the heat of the day.
I have an old “inherited” shed on my place which my cattle use for shade when they’re in one of my improved pastures with no trees. It was a covering used over a mobile home in the past. It’s a little high off the ground, but the cows do move to the shade by about 11 a.m. each day. They usually stay under the shade until 4 p.m. or so before moving out to begin grazing.
Also, this last spring, I reconstructed my cattle pens and working facilities and do not have any sheds for shading in the pens. My wife convinced me to leave a good sized mesquite in one corner of the pens area (I wasn’t really in favor of that because I felt it would just be in the way), but the tree has really been a life saver for calves I’ve weaned  and am backgrounding in the pens this summer.
So, in the past two summers, I have been reminded of the importance of providing shady areas for my black cattle in sunny, dry, hot west Texas!
For some good information on the benefits and ideas for providing shade for your cattle, take a look at this article:
Shade Options for Grazing Cattle (PDF) by Stephen F. Higgins, Carmen T. Agouridis, and Sarah J. Wightman, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Kentucky
How do you provide shade for your cattle?




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