It’s that time of year when grazers begin asking each other, “What do you do to get shade to your animals?” Here’s why it’s helpful to YOU to provide shade, and 3 different options for making it happen.
Why is Shade Important?
Adding some shade to pastures, especially in places where the weather is both hot and humid is both kind and good for productivity. As the authors of this fact sheet point out, reducing heat stress for beef cows and calves can increase weight gain by 1.25 lbs per day for cows, .41 lb per day for calves, and .89 lb per day for steers. For you dairy farmers, heat stress could be reducing your production too. When temperatures hit 90ºF and above, milk production can be reduced by 20 to 30% . Cool cows produce as much as 9 pounds more milk per day compared to hot cows. Shade also improves fertility. Cows with shade have higher pregnancy rates than cows without, and bulls with access to shade have higher semen counts.
Natural Shade Options
Trees don’t just block out the sun. The moisture evaporating from their leaves can also cool the surrounding air, so livestock prefer them to anything we can build. But their love of tree shade can be problematic for both the trees and streams and ponds that may be nearby. Livestock congregating under trees can cause soil erosion and expose roots, potentially killing the tree. This erosion can also lead to more sediment and nutrient pollution in streams and ponds.
If your animals are already taking advantage of trees in your pastures, you’ll need to add tree maintenance and additional planning to your to do list. This can include:
• Covering tree roots with topsoil and grass sown to control erosion and provide cool bedding for livestock.
• Reducing impact to treed areas by using them only during times of high heat stress and letting them rest during cooler periods.
If you don’t have trees in your pastures, check out the recent articles from Austin Unruh on how to plant trees in your pastures and how to use them as supplemental forage to extend your grazing season. You can find all his articles here. We also have some great articles on silvopasture from Brett Chedzoy, including how to work with both forested areas or open pastures to develop silvopastures.
Barns and sheds can provide some great shade, but they’re expensive, and not really a great solution when you’re moving animals from paddock to paddock. Of course, as suggested for managing grazing around trees, you might be able to use this kind of shade during periods of high heat stress as part of your regular moves through pastures.
With a little googling, you can find a wide variety of portable shade structures for sale. We’ve even written about one of them – a giant movable umbrella designed by a company called Shade Haven. But if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can build your own, low-cost shade structure from 2.5 inch pipe welded into a frame and covered with shade cloth. Plans are provided in the fact sheet above so you can get started. Just click to download it.
Once you’ve got a portable shade structure, don’t forget that it is portable. Move it along with your animals so they’ll have shade where they need it and to prevent erosion and compaction problems in one part of your pastures. Then pay attention to grazing patterns and adjust shade locations to get best pasture use.