It isn't exactly a surprise to a lot of cattlemen, but ongoing research suggests that providing shade in open pens results in better beef at the packing plant.
At Pratt Feeders, a 40,000-head, quality-focused feed-yard managed by Jerry Bohn, shades were added to some pens to assess the cost/benefit on cattle already stressed by widespread drought. Bohn discussed the results of that effort at the Feeding Quality Forum in Garden City on Aug. 22.
"We had a little death loss each of the last three years due to heat," Bohn said. Last year was the worst.
Bohn hired an Iowa contractor to build five shades straddling 10 pens, at the cost of $15,000 each in the fall of 2012. The 50- by 48-foot steel frames have canvas covers with a heat escape vent in the center, all supported by three 24-inch steel poles.
Up to 150 cattle found relief under each structure during the hottest days of this summer. During the winter of 2012-13, a 17-inch snowfall did not cause problems, but there was significant storm damage this summer from 110-mph winds.
Bohn undertook a research project with Kansas State University this year included a veterinary student working at the yard all summer, and shared results on groups of cattle that were sorted a month to six weeks before marketing at the Garden City forum.
"Sorting the cattle as equally and randomly as we could, we put one group under the shades and one in the regular feedlot pens," Bohn said. "We then measured feed intake, average daily gain and feed conversion, and later gathered carcass data from National Beef."
In highlighting basic results, Bohn said he was surprised there was not much difference in feedlot performance with or without shade.
"What we did see in four of the six groups was a pretty good difference in packing plant performance," Bohn reported. "That generally favored the cattle in the shade and it came from hot yield as well as quality grade."
From an animal welfare standpoint, he added, "I think we have to continue to look at these kinds of things as an industry. Sometimes I think we'll be forced to do things in the future that might not have good economic reasons, but you've got to do it the right way."