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Sun vs. Shade

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Last week we experienced record high temperatures for this year.. The real-feel temperature was 115 degrees and boy was it miserable! The ideal temperature for cattle is between 25 and 65 degrees, so this was extremely uncomfortable for them. We are so thankful that the week has passed and we wanted to share how we did our best to keep the cattle cool last week and during the summers.

Heat stress that cattle undertake is one thing we take into consideration when planning for our cattle during the summer months. When temperatures reach 80 degrees or higher the cattle start to experience effects of heat stress if not managed properly. Most animals typically can handle heat because of their sweating. It sounds odd, but their sweat dries which in turn cools their skin. Cattle don’t sweat efficiently enough for this to be an effective blocker from the stress caused by heat.

Cattle will acquire heat during the day when the heat is at its peak and then deplete the heat at night when the temperatures drop. This is why last week was so unbearable because the evenings didn’t cool down and during the day there was no air moving. Because of the cattle’s herd instincts they will cluster together when they are under stress (even heat stress). This clustering makes the cattle even hotter and we have to try to manage it accordingly.

The backgrounding and fat cattle that we have in barns have a different experience than the mamma cows out in pastures. In the barns we have roof coverage and the animals can be under the roof protected from the sun. They also have very close access to cold water. Also in some of the newer barns we have fans that are running to circulate the air. Last week we bedded the barns with extra straw and did our best to keep them conformable.

Figure 1: Background cattle in the barn with lots of fresh bedding and fans.

The pasture is broken up into paddocks (smaller sections of pasture) and because we do this, there isn’t always the most access to shade from trees. The pasture is broken up to improve the grass(a whole other blog post)! So to prepare for the heat, we strategically placed the cows in certain pastures. One group we moved to our most shady area for the whole week.

Figure 2: Trees in one of our pastures that provide shade for the cattle.

Intercepting the sun’s radiation at roughly 30% shade can go a long way in preventing heat stress. For max efficiency natural shade from trees is the best, although that isn’t always possible. Whenever shade from trees isn't available to place the portable shades in the paddock for them to use. The black cloth has a 90% protection from the sun. We have created artificial shade out of scraps and old equipment we had lying around the farm. This was a great way to recycle some old unusable equipment! Thanks Bryan for engineering these! Here are some examples of our shades.

Figures 3 and 4: Examples of the different shades we have in our pastures.

When the cattle are in the shade you also have to worry about high hoof traffic that is eroding the soil creating bare ground that can become muddy and wet due to manure accumulation and rain. Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid this with shade which is why with our artificial shades we have to move them periodically. Currently, we are working on the best practices to reseed and repair any disturbed ground.

Figure 5: The trees lining the fence provide shade to the cattle.

For us and a vast part of the United States avoiding the summer heat and its causes is impossible. We do what we can to be prepared for heat, so we can slow the effects on our cattle, whether they are on pasture or in the barns . The cows and the people caring for them were so happy to see the heat go and be welcomed by some amazing cool fall weather!


Olivia, Tabby, Gina, and Kendra

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