Providing shade to livestock on hot days is a challenge.
We have typically solved this problem by granting livestock access to woods, dispersed throughout the farm. This certainly helps cattle stay cooler than standing in the blazing sun, but a few issues arise from this approach: beneficial manure is deposited in woods rather than pastures, woods are not always accessible to where livestock are grazing, and "hot spots" develop in favored camping grounds, where concentrated manure and urine accumulate, transmitting hoof-rot to susceptible animals.
The ideal landscape is a savannah, where trees are dispersed through the landscape - at the rate of about two or three per acre. Every time livestock move forward, they'd have access to new dry shade. This kind of landscape takes time and investment to develop, however, and can interfere with potential activities like making hay or growing annuals. Further, if tile lines drain fields planted with trees, roots from trees may impede their ability to transport water. We are interested in this possibility, but haven't yet taken steps to implement it.
A third alternative is a "shade mobile", where constructed shade is moved with livestock, as they migrate. The above is our first attempt at this approach, and was built by Landis' brother, Caleb, at about one tenth the cost of upscale, commercial versions. Its dimensions are 20 x 20 ft, providing 400 sq. feet of shade. It is generally assumed providing shade to cattle at temperatures of 85 degrees or more increases weight and milk production by 15 - 20%, over livestock with no shade.
In this picture, the cattle have not yet discovered the shade-mobile, and are clustered around water and mineral tubs in the distance. One of the problems with such clustering is dominant animals stand closest to the cool water, preventing access for less dominant ones.
We could also address issues associated with high temperatures, by selecting heat-resistant breeds, such as come from Bos Indicus subspecie of cattle, found in the tropics. Bos Indicus breeds evolved to withstand heat and parasites, but are less fertile, less docile, less cold-tolerant and produce less intramuscular fat than the Bos Taurus breeds of northern Europe. Tropical breeds typically have long ears and a hump of fat on their backs for dissipating heat. Many breeds fall within this group, but two common ones are Brahman and Zebu
Breeds that fall into the Bos Taurus subspecie include: Angus, Hereford, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Red Devon, and Shorthorn... These are fertile, docile animals who withstand the cold and wet quite well, but are susceptible to heat stress and parasites.
No breed is perfect, and one has to choose which battle one wants to fight. We are choosing to work with European breeds, which produce intramuscular fat on grass and can withstand cold winters. Within that group, we are working primarily with Red Devons, because the breed has not been altered for the feedlot and because of their red hide. Black is always hotter than red, which should affect body temperature. We do have black cows who perform quite well, but common sense says red will be cooler. So, we favor that color.
Below is our finishing-group of cull cows and steers, comfortably finding shade in the middle of a field, and releasing congestion around the water tank, all thanks to our new shade-mobile.
Another issue with heat is cool-season grasses nearly stop growing when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. These include fescue, orchard grass, and bluegrass, which predominate the pastures of this part of the country. We have, however, planted warm-season grasses to express themselves when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. These primarily include: switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem,and indian grass. They are hard to establish, but we have about 50 acres of warm-season grasses now in place, after planting 100 acres at the outset. They are green in the heat of the summer, when the cool-seasons are brown. Cattle love grazing them as a result. Warm-season perennials go dormant in the fall and don't provide winter grazing, but they do provide feed in the heat of summer, which is a godsend. The green leaves below are switch grass.
The other strategy we are employing to beat the heat and extend our grazing season is planting warm-season annuals. As mentioned several weeks ago, we have drilled sorhum-sudan grass into a tightly mowed pasture, and are hoping it will grow quickly enough before weeds and perennial grasses overshadow it. So, the race is on. The inch of rain we received last night will help. The picture on the left was taken just after planting three weeks ago. The one on the right was taken this morning. Progress is at hand.
We will not be at the market July 3, as we will be cooling our heals in Ontario for a week. If you seek supplies of grassfed meat for that long weekend, please plan ahead and pick them up this weekend.
We have begun participating in the Milford market on Saturdays from 10 - 2, so if you have friends or relatives in the area, send them to us, at the corner of Rt 50 & Rt 131 in the parking lot next to Grant's Greenhouse.
On-line ordering for delivery to Hyde Park Market on July 10 is now available by going to:
Above left are: thick-cut woodlot bacon, spinach fritatta, and fresh tomatoes. To the right are: strip steak, grilled summer squash, fava beans, rappini, fresh tomatoes, and a wedge of brie cheese.
Grilling products for the 4th might include: ribeyes, tenderloin, sirloin, loin chops of lamb, rack of lamb, pork chops, beef patties, ground beef & ground lamb combined, Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, chicken breasts, chicken legs & thighs. These delicious items may be ordered in advance and reserved by going to:
If grilling is not your preference, remember we now offer a host of prepared foods to simplify your life in the kitchen: beef barbacoa, pulled pork, meatballs, chili, bolognese sauce, short-rib burgers, three different sliders, and more:
Our freezers are bulging and we are ready for your orders.
We stand in the rising heat, with our grass, animals, and you, but now thankfully near a shade-mobile!
Drausin & Susan