envato.com, by Marisap7
envato.com, by Marisap7

Creating artificial shade structures for pens and pastures 

Protecting cattle from the blazing summer sun makes cattle more comfortable and shields them from some of the negative effects of heat stress. When animals overheat and their body temperature increases, their performance in a variety of areas can decrease. 

Shade is an essential element in helping cattle reduce heat stress. According to agricultural experts at the University of Kentucky, shade (either natural or artificial) will effectively deflect some of the sun’s radiation; therefore, reducing heat loads on animals by as much as 30 percent. 

Shade Structures

Though naturally shaded pastures are ideal, portable or permanent artificial shade structures can provide adequate relief as well. Producers looking for artificial shade structures have access to several different portable or permanent solutions. “In a small operation, portable buildings or open livestock trailers can work. The building or trailer needs to be open to allow free air flow,” David Lalman, Ph.D., professor, and extension beef cattle specialist at Oklahoma State University, said. Additionally, a three-sided building is not the best alternative due to the lack of air movement in those type of structures. 

Portable or Permanent

There are advantages and disadvantages to both permanent and portable shade structures. The most evident advantage of a permanent structure is it is secured in a fixed location compared to a portable unit. Additionally, some permanent structures are manufactured with the ability to pivot or tip so that they can serve as a wind break during the winter months. The downside to permanent structures is the cost, they are more expensive than a portable option. 

 Beef extension specialists at Oklahoma State University built their own portable system to provide artificial shade in pastures lacking in natural cover. They used 2-inch pipe to create frames that were 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall. A manufacturing company custom created grommeted shade cloth to fit the frames. The custom cloth sheets were secured by winding rope continually through the grommets. When constructing an artificial shade frame, experts recommend creating it in a way that the shade cloth can be stretched flat or level to minimize wind damage.

Drawbacks to Artificial Shade

There are some drawbacks to artificial shade structures. “If it is the only source of shade in the pasture or pen, the cattle will camp under it, leading to urine and manure build up and an eventual mudhole. Thus, the pen surface requires occasional maintenance,” Dr. Lalman said. If the system is portable, it can can be moved every few days to minimize damage to the pen or pasture surface. 

When utilizing shades that are rectangular, the shades should be placed in a north to south orientation. This orientation ensures the shaded area shifts slightly throughout the day. In the morning the shade will be to the west of the frame. In the evening the shade will be to the east of the frame. The north to south orientation will help to minimize the effects of the animals staying in the same spot all day. 


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