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Shade Is Good For Your Bottom Line

This week we’re sharing the first article in a series by Brett Chedzoy about how to go about adding trees to open pastures. As Brett has mentioned in past articles, trees provide a number of important services to us and our livestock including providing an additional product in the form of lumber, and sheltering animals from too much wind, winter snows, and summer suns. In this week’s article, he suggests questions you should ask yourself when considering adding trees to open pastures, including “Can I afford to do this?” To help you with your analysis, here’s some information about what shade can add to your bottom line.

Shade Is Good For Gain

This information comes to us from a presentation on the economics of silvopasture done by Dr. Larry Godsey of the Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri. Click here to download a pdf of the presentation.

The first thing that happens to any creature when it gets hot is it slows down.  It eats less, and its body focuses on the minimum to get by until things cool down again.  For cattle producers that’s bad news because average daily gain will go down.  What’s the difference when animals have shade?

• In a study by the University of Kentucky Animal Research Center on cattle with shade in late spring and early summer they noted these weight gains over those animals without shade:

– 1.24 lbs/day for cows
– .41 lbs/day for calves
– .89 lbs/day for steers

• University of Missouri researchers found that cattle who had shade while grazing endophyte-infected pastures  gained .72 lbs/day more than those without.

• Finally, researchers in Arkansas cattle with shade gained 20% more than those without.

Cool Dairy Cows Give More Milk

When temperatures go up, milk production drops.  Studies done in Florida and Virginia showed that when temperatures went above 90 degrees, milk production dropped by 20 to 30%.  The graph below gives you a good idea what that means for your pocketbook:

Reproduction and Fertility Improves With Shade

In the sunshine state (Florida) researchers found that conception rates of shaded cattle were 44.4% and those without were only 25.3%. If you’re reproduction rates are down, maybe your cows just need a little more shade.

Grazing Pastures Without Shade When It’s Hot Outside

On Pasture author Victor Shelton has this to say about this time of year and what helps cattle do their best:

“Just like people, (well, at least me), livestock prefer cool water and some shade on really hot days. They like their water best when it’s between 37 and 65 degrees. Portable tanks on above ground lines or long hoses can exceed those temperatures quite easily and in fact be warm enough for hot tea instead of a cool summer drink.

When temperatures and humidity are over 85, shade is beneficial. That is equivalent to a heat index of about 100 degrees.

“Shade for most of the year is just a luxury item for livestock and even somewhat counterproductive nutrient wise as manure is often deposited where less beneficial. When temperatures and humidity are above 85, shade is very beneficial and needed. Animals need to be able to cool off, especially when we don’t have cooler nights. Livestock also prefer temperatures in the range of 41 to 77 degrees. If you have a field with no shade but need to utilize it and have a few extra minutes, you could let them graze the no shade areas from late evening until late morning and then move them let them ruminate and rest in an area with shade or consider adding some shade to needed areas.”

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