An innovative new animal welfare product installed recently at the Texas Tech University Beef Center is providing researchers with a unique opportunity to evaluate the impact shade can have on animal health and wellness.
The shade system was developed and sold by NetPro, an Australian company that focuses on animal welfare products and solutions for livestock producers. After learning about the NetPro system, faculty and staff in the Texas Tech department of animal and food sciences recognized its potential benefits and was excited to install one for the cattle at the Beef Center.
Nathan Reeves, director of the Beef Center, helped oversee the installation process. He said he has already seen the positive effects it has on the cattle, noting that the system can reduce temperatures on the pen floors by as much as 20-30°F.
"At first, I was skeptical," Reeves said. "Change is a really hard thing for people to get ahold of, but I think being open minded and adaptable and looking at the change that has happened with these cattle on their overall well-being has been incredible."
Reeves said optimal animal welfare is a top priority for Texas Tech, and the shade system has made a drastic difference to the research program.
At the Beef Center, the shade system currently services cattle in 13 pens. The NetPro system is composed of 39 ft. x 56 ft. shade cloths suspended in the air by cables in a checkerboard pattern. The cloth can block up to 70% of ultraviolet (UV) rays for the cattle, which reduces heat stress.
The system can handle the harsh weather that can occur in west Texas and can withstand wind gusts of up to 100 mph. The unique checkerboard pattern allows the sun to reach the pen floor to dry mud after a big thunderstorm. Since the system is targeted for use in late spring to midsummer, when it is generally the hottest, it can be rolled up in the fall and stored to protect it from snow and ice in the winter.
Reeves acknowledged that there was a large initial cost associated with installing a structure of this size, but based on the production benefits he has seen, he believes it will be a great asset in ensuring the well-being and comfort of the cattle.
Installation of the Net Pro system was performed by collaborators from Texas Tech, NetPro and JBS Five Cattle Feeders based in McCalihane, Ariz.