Feedlots keep cool through heatwaves

14 Feb, 2017 02:00 AM

SOPHISTICATED heat stress management in cattle, including web-based risk assessment and site-specific forecasts, have allowed feedlot operators to literally keep their cool through relentless waves of high temperatures this summer.

The feedlot industry has spent millions in research and development to pioneer the most advanced methods to safeguard its cattle during heat waves and that has meant they have been able to take recent conditions in their stride.

Interestingly, the industry's progressive tools are showing the widespread 40-plus degrees Celsius temperatures have not necessarily been conducive to heat stress in areas where the majority of cattle are fed.

Because the heat waves have generally arrived with low humidity and wind, they have not tended to trigger the need for action in feedlots.

Brisbane-based environmental consulting company Katestone, which delivers the lotfeeding industry's Cattle Heat Load Toolbox, said the number of alerts issued through January had not been out of the ordinary.

Katestone managing director Christine Killip said the longer periods of high temperatures were also less dangerous than intermittent high heat loads because animals acclimatise.

"There have been no panic stations through these heatwaves," she said.

"The more problematic conditions are those such as post cyclone when a massive dump of rain is followed by high temps and humidity and no wind."

The Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) has commissioned extensive research into the causes of excessive heat load over the years and that has underpinned the development of the innovative technology now used to manage it.

More than 200 feedlots across the nation are registered to receive site-specific forecasts of accumulated heat load out to seven days.

An algorithm, taking into account everything from temperature and humidity to wind speed and radiation, calculates a heat load index (HLI).

Feedlot operators then feed in their own specifics, such as what breed of cattle they have, coat colour, days on feed, water temperature, amount of shade per square metre and manure depth, and Katestone can warn them in advance when a trigger level is approaching.

ALFA president Tess Herbert said the feedlot industry had been very proactive in significantly reducing heat stress in cattle under its management.

The HLI was monitored daily and the technology had really come into its own this season, she said.

"This is an issue we face every summer and Australian feedlots are in the mode of implementing action plans well prior to an expected event to reduce the excessive heat load risk to their cattle."

Altering head load rations - that is lowering energy intake which is a significant contributor to heat stress, along with things like adding extra temporary water troughs to strategic cleaning up of high manure deposition areas, are put in place.

"Feedlot operators now combine the technology of forecasted heat events, onsite risk assessments and daily monitoring with their own observations of cattle behaviours to address heat," Ms Herbert said.

"These actions are also auditable under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme."

Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

is the national beef writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media.


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