“Shade for Developing Bulls”
by Chris Reinhardt, feedlot specialist
When feeding young bulls for sale, a compromise must be made between absolute maximum performance and long-term health of the bulls.
If only short-term performance were the goal, we’d feed a finishing diet and short-term ADG would be maximized; however, we would suffer a significant number of losses due to laminitis and other acidosis-related ailments. Therefore, we try to strike a balance by including in the diet an abundance of good quality forage in addition to grain and grain by-products, in order to maintain a healthy rumen and minimize if not even eliminate the risk of acidosis and laminitis. Bulls with good genetics for intake will often gain near if not equal to their maximum genetic potential on a well-balanced forage-and-concentrate diet.
However, in certain parts of the U.S., summer heat combined with humidity and lack of wind can make for uncomfortable conditions throughout the middle of the day, from late morning until early evening. This added external heat load discourages maximum consumption by the bulls and hurts performance. Anything the producer can do during the summer months to encourage feed consumption will enhance ADG without increasing the risk of acidosis and foot problems. In addition, if feeding conditions can be made more comfortable during midday, there may be a reduced risk that cattle will come to the bunk in the evening hours hungry after several hours of not eating because of heat.
Placing shade near or directly over the feed bunk area is one way that cattle—especially black-hided cattle—can be made more comfortable, resulting in increased feed intake and better ADG during the hottest summer conditions.
When constructing shade structures, there should be a minimum of 20 ft2 of shaded area per animal in the pen; more shaded area is better to provide more shaded loafing space for cattle when they’re not eating. If the shaded area is on dirt, the shade should be oriented longitudinally north-and-south so that the shaded area moves west-to-east with the juxtaposition of the sun. This will allow the moisture in the shaded area to dry, preventing accumulation of mud in the shaded area. However, if the shaded area is strictly on the concrete feed bunk pad, this consideration is not critical.
Performance of developing bulls is a function of total daily nutrient intake. If we’ve done a good job of balancing the needs for energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and good quality and quantity of forage, the only x-factor left in the equation is consumption of the diet. By enhancing the comfort of cattle during times of hot, humid weather, we may be able to enhance short-term rate of gain without risking the long-term health of the bulls.