"Don't underestimate the value of shade for beef cattle in the fescue belt," says Eldon Cole, livestock specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
Management intensive grazing, where larger pastures are reduced in size for more efficient use of the forage, often leave some pastures without shade. Some argue that shade is not that critical, but Cole says that more often than not, shade is helpful.
Two years of shade research were carried out at the University of Missouri's Southwest Research Center, Mt. Vernon with impressive results favoring shade.
According to Cole, in 2000 a group of spring-calving cows were compared using small portable shades and no shade. The trial was done on both endophyte infected and endophyte free fescue.
The greatest difference showed up on the infected fescue where the shaded cows outgained the others by .72 pound per day for 84 days. The calves nursing the shaded cows also made better gains, 0.17 lb. per day, but that was not significant.
According to Cole, the most dramatic finding of the shade study was the difference in pregnancy rates at the end of the summer.
The overall pregnancy rate was 87.5% for the cows given shade while it was only 50% for cows with no shade.
"The difference was more pronounced when only the endophyte infected pastures were considered. The elevated body temperature is likely the culprit for the drop in percentage bred," says Cole.
The following year, the same trial was conducted at Southwest Center using 550 pound steers. The shaded steers gained 0.2 pound more per day for 84 days than the unshaded ones. As with the cows, the difference increased up to 0.35 pound per day when the shade, no-shade comparison was made on the "hot" fescue pasture.
"Trials in other states have given similar responses regarding animal gains, pregnancy rates as well as milk production in dairy cows," says Cole.