Shade can keep cattle cool and help save sensitive water habitats

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Shade not only helps cattle stay cool in the summer months, but also helps preserve the quality of sensitive habitats around ponds and streams, said Dirk Philipp, assistant professor for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Arkansas’s summers can be brutal, with heat indices well into the triple digits. High heat can have a negative effect on cattle, “especially when grazing on toxic tall fescue,” Philipp said. “Cattle may suffer from elevated body temperature that drives them into ponds or creeks, potentially damaging sensitive habitat.

“The shade structures should have an overall positive effect on water quality by reducing loafing of animals in riparian areas,” he said.

Philipp has the following recommendations for building shade shelters for their herds:

  • Use sturdy materials such as wood or steel.
  • Make sure the structure has a flat roof. A 1-foot slope is allowable for runoff.
  • Keep the structure at least 200 feet away from any water or drainage area, and keep it 50 feet away from any other structures.
  • Place mineral blocks and water sources in strategic locations to create favorable grazing patterns. This will prevent excessive defoliation under shade structures.
  • Portable shade structures should be movable with farm equipment.
  • Pay attention to the shade’s orientation. An east-west orientation is desirable if animals are expected to spend large amounts of time underneath.

Philipp cautions that shading shelters are not one-size-fits-all. “Different animals have different shading area needs, depending on their size.”

According to Natural Resource Conservation Service, the following shade sizes are recommended:

  • 400-pound calves       18 square feet per head
  • 800-pound feeders      24 square feet per head
  • Beef cows                   32 square feet per head
  • Dairy cows                  40 square feet per head
  • Mature swine              18 square feet per head
  • Horses                         32 square feet per head
  • Yearlings                     24 square feet per head
  • Goats and sheep         8 square feet per head


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