Tag: Mobile livestock shade

3 Golden Rules of Grazing

Grazing guru Dr. Allen Williams shares insight on adaptive grazing rules and how he uses Shade Havens in his own grazing practice.

Dr. Williams is a sixth-generation farmer and the founder of Grass Fed Insights, LLC, Understanding Ag, LLC, and Soil Health Academy. He helps farmers and ranchers graze successfully and profitably using the three rules of adaptive stewardship: compounding, diversity, and disruption.

Rule #1 – Compounding. The first rule is to understand that everything we do on a farm has compounding effects – either negative or positive. “Our job is to implement practices that create a series of positive compounding effects,” Williams stresses.

Rule #2 – Diversity. Increasing forage diversity is fundamental to successful grazing.

“Not only do your animals perform better, but you can get rid of your vet meds, your dewormers – you don’t need them anymore,” says Williams. “It saves you a lot in input costs. Your performance goes up, your profitability goes up.”

How do you achieve that high level of diversity? Mother Nature has already done most of the work.

“What we do is utilize the rules of adaptive stewardship and adaptive grazing to be able to access or tap the latent seed lines that everybody has in North America,” says Williams. “The latent seed lines are loaded with dozens even hundreds of different plant species that most people rarely see because of the way they graze.”

Williams has documented 140 different plant species growing in the pastures at his farm, BDA Farm in Uniontown, Alabama. “Our livestock eat all of it – all 140. And we planted none of it. They are a result of the latent seed lines.”

Since 2019, Williams has used four SH1200 mobile shade systems with multiple species that graze at BDA Farm. The Shade Havens protect the livestock from the hot Alabama sun. They also aid in achieving forage diversity. “When cattle or other livestock congregate underneath the portable shade, that creates a high-density impact,” says Williams.

“If you move the shade structure around frequently, you are creating a high-density impact wherever the shade was, and that applies a lot of fertility, a lot of biology to that soil. At the same time, it stimulates the latent seed lines, so you create greater diversity. Everywhere you put that shade and move it like you should, you are creating what we call biological hot spots, highly diverse hot spots.”

Increased plant diversity has positive compounding effects, including better animal health. “The reason we want diversity is because many, many plant species can also be medicinal and anti-parasitic in nature. That means our livestock can self-medicate, can self-deworm,” notes Williams. “We don’t have to give them pharmaceuticals, and we never have to deworm them. They’ve got everything they need.”

Higher plant diversity also leads to greater diversity in the soil microbial population, which leads to a greater array of phytonutrients in the plants themselves. The broad array of plants supports life above the soil, not just your livestock, but other wildlife, birds, insects, and pollinators.

“It benefits your livestock, it benefits your soil, it benefits the plants themselves,” reiterates Williams. “So you get restoration of fully functioning ecosystems. It’s a win-win-win all across the board.”

Rule #3 – Disruption.  Avoid stagnation with the final rule by adding disruption to your grazing plan. Williams suggests altering your stock density, altering rest periods, changing your paddock figuration and rotational patterns.

Portable Shade at BDA

BDA Farm is a 6,200-acre certified organic produce and livestock operation in Uniontown, Alabama. With a focus on regenerative agriculture, BDA produces more than 40 varieties of vegetables and herbs and moves 1,000 beef, 500 sheep and 3,000 laying hens across 4,000+ acres.

Like most grazing operations, BDA has fields without access to shade. The four SH1200 mobile shade systems at BDA Farm boost pasture health and protect the dairy cattle, beef, sheep, pigs, and chickens from the blazing sun. “We get extremely hot. Our livestock must have shade,” notes Williams. “Natural shade is a preference. You can plant it, but it takes a lifetime to grow it. So portable shade comes in extremely handy.”

The Shade Havens compliment BDA’s adaptive grazing strategy. “You want quality portable shade that holds up in all conditions, and it’s easy to move, because you don’t want to just park it in one place. You have to be able to move it around,” says Williams.

Williams appreciates the portability of the Shade Haven whether it’s for livestock or humans attending the many workshops held at the farm. “Because it is so portable, you don’t have to dedicate it to just one species, or just one spot. I can take it to wherever I need it at any time.”


Shade Haven Passes the Test

Univ. of Massachusetts – Amherst

University livestock programs throughout the U.S. give Shade Haven mobile shade systems an A+ for improving animal wellness and boosting pasture health. Shade Haven systems are part of grazing and livestock programs at USDA facilities and universities in Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee, with increasing interest from other institutions throughout the country.

The University of Tennessee – Knoxville purchased two SH1200 mobile shade systems in 2017 for use in its Beef Heifer Development Program, which takes on the often-costly task of developing replacement heifers for Tennessee cattle producers. The development facility takes in spring- and fall-born heifers for 10 ½- and 11-month periods.

“We develop those heifers with the best management protocols, put them through an artificial insemination program, and get them bred and returned back to the producer,” explains Kevin Thompson, director of the Middle Tennessee Ag Research and Education Center.

At the Development Center in Lewisburg, some 300+ heifers rotate through multiple pastures; not all pastures offer access to natural shade. “Those Shade Haven structures have been invaluable in terms of helping us manage the welfare and comfort level of the heifers that we raise,” notes Thompson.

While the Shade Haven structures contribute to cattle health by providing relief from the hot Tennessee sun, the impact on pasture health is equally important and most obvious, notes Thompson. “We are not wearing down and over grazing in certain areas, so we’re not getting a lot of invasive forages, and we are able to maintain our fescue orchard grass pastures. We also utilize those shades in some of the native warm season pastures that are grazed during July, August and early September, so we are able to maintain the integrity of those pastures. Anytime you are able to do that, you are impacting soil health as well, if you look at it from a holistic perspective.”

Univ. of TN – Knoxville

Alston Hillard, Small Farm Outreach Program coordinator at Virginia State University(VSU) also observes vibrant pastures where Shade Haven structures are used in his program, though no formal research has been conducted. “I see good regrowth in those pastures,” notes Hillard.

Virginia State University

VSU purchased two SH600 structures and one SH1200 in 2021. All three Shade Havens were used with cattle in the 2021 grazing season, notes Hillard. This year, one of the SH600s provided heat relief for 40 goats.

Prioritizing animal comfort and welfare is the primary focus in both university programs. “If the cattle are comfortable, they are going to be performing,” says Thompson. “And if they are performing, we are doing what we should as stewards of the livestock.”

Needed protection from heat stress spurred the 2022 purchase of a SH600 Shade Haven at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (CAFÉ). The center had limited shade near the barns where they monitored their Belted Galloway dams and calves. After one season with the Shade Haven, they are pleased with the results.

“In the past we have had some significant heat stress in the calves that we attend to,” explained Bob Skalbite, CAFE farm manager. “This year with the Shade Haven, even with the high heat and severe drought conditions we have had, we didn’t have problems with heat stress. The cattle had plenty of shade and were able to get out of the sun and keep their core body temperatures at an appropriate level.”

Skalbite adds, “The ability to move the shade around lets us spread the manure around a little more, which reduces mastitis rates by being able to move it to a clean area.”

University of MA – Amherst

As climate-smart practices become more and more necessary, mobile shade plays an important role in the future of farming. “You can better manage grazing with the Shade Haven, which would help with carbon sequestration; being able to give grass longer rest periods, increase forage growth, and spread manure out,” says Skalbite on mobile shade’s role in climate change mitigation.

Skalbite, Thompson and Hillard all complement the ease of use, transportability, and durability of the Shade Haven mobile shade systems. After two years of use, the Shade Havens at VSU have sustained no damage due to weather or wind, reports Hillard.

After using the Shade Havens for five years in his program at the University of Tennessee Ag Research Center, Thompson notes, “Those Shade Havens are just like they were when we received them. We have made no repairs whatsoever. I can’t say enough about the quality of construction of the Shade Haven.”

Five Years with Shade Haven

Photo credit: Jamie Tiralla, All Ag Media

Jason Leavitt is the fourth generation to work his family farm situated between the Chesapeake Bay and the Patuxent River in Owings, Maryland. Leavitt transitioned from mostly grain to grassfed beef, but with no trees in his pasture, he needed shade.

“I tried to construct my own with hay wagons, but once we had a thunderstorm it pretty much got annihilated,” says Leavitt. “I needed a legitimate mobile shade, so I looked around the internet and found Shade Haven.”

That was five years ago. Today this rotational grazier couldn’t be happier. “The Shade Haven pretty much enables us to do what we do,” says Leavitt. “From late May to mid-September, it is not unheard of for temps to be in the 90s, even 100 degrees. We run black Angus, and I, in good conscience, can’t send them out in the fields when it is 100 degrees and let them bake.”

Leavitt moves his 75 Angus daily. “I have to have something I can move from field to field with them. The Shade Haven works awesome. It’s phenomenally easy to use.”

After five years with a Shade Haven, Leavitt wouldn’t want to graze without it. Neither would his cows, who Leavitt says choose to be under the Shade Haven even in paddocks with natural shade.  “I think that is because there is natural convection, there is always somewhat of a breeze or air movement under there.”

The Shade Haven keeps the cows cool, happy and healthy, and it helps Leavitt maintain a healthy pasture. “With the Shade Haven, you have complete control of where the majority of the nutrients are disseminated – especially when it is hot outside,” he adds.

Though he hasn’t kept detailed records on production and conception rates, Leavitt is confident that both have improved since adding mobile shade. Last year was a record year for calves born on his farm. “We had 36 brood cows and 34 calves. That is the first time that has ever happened. Whether that is related to the Shade or the bull, I’m not exactly sure, but something is working out right.”

At the end of the grazing season, Leavitt will clean up his Shade and store it in his barn to prevent damage from snow and ice. He knows that with basic upkeep his SH1200 will be ready for another grazing season. “Just regular maintenance, greasing it, oiling it. I power wash it at the end of each year and put it away correctly in the winter. I’m amazed at the minimal amount of maintenance and attention it needs.”

To find out more about Leavitt’s farm, check out his website, wilsondowellfarms.com.  He sells his grassfed beef, pork and goat products through the website and through Southern Maryland Meats.

Tennessee Grazing with Shade

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Retirement goals often include travel, boats or spending more time on the golf course. John Abe Teague’s retirement dream was to farm and raise cattle, and that’s what he did. In 2014 Teague started with 13 bred Angus cows at his farm in Jonesborough, Tennessee, but with limited trees he was challenged to supply the shade his cattle needed. Then in 2015 he purchased a Shade Haven mobile shade system.

“It has allowed me to do what I do—have cattle and do rotational grazing,” says Teague. “I could not farm without the Shade Haven. It’s that simple.”

For rotational grazing, Teague knew he needed grass, water, fencing and shade. After failed attempts to construct his own shade solution, he found what he needed at Powell Farms, which utilizes nine Shade Havens in its grazing plan. “I was sold the minute I saw it,” says Teague. “I picked the phone up and ordered one.”

Teague moves his cattle and the Shade Haven daily across 15 acres established in five-acre paddocks, which he divides into 8 to 10 smaller paddocks with electric fence on reels. When the cattle at Mire Creek Farm see the Shade Haven, they know it means fresh green grass and a cool place to lie down. “I cluck at them and move the Shade Haven and they follow me,” says Teague. “I tell people, they would follow me all the way to town if I wanted them to. They love the Shade Haven.”

An advocate for rotational grazing, Teague welcomes groups to his farm who want to learn about it. He knows the benefits of managed grazing and mobile shade for animal health, production and profitability. “The bottom line is they get shade when they need it. It gets 95 degrees here in summertime and black-hided cows can’t stand it. They’ve got to have shade,” says Teague, who also appreciates the ability to control where nutrients are going in his pasture. “I find weak spots in the field and place the Shade Haven there, so it gets manure and then I move it. That helps on the fertilizer bill, and it helps on the quality of grass.”

Since a health condition requires him to eat a lot of protein, Teague consumes a portion of his shade-raised, grassfed beef and sells the rest. He’s still fine-tuning his grazing operation and his pastures. “I’ve managed to get one cow for every one acre with rotational grazing,” he adds.

Building his registered Angus cow/calf herd, improving his pastures, and moving the cattle are all part of typical day for Teague, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. “I’m 69. I’ve had a good life. This is my retirement, and the Shade Haven makes it possible.”

Shade Haven is proud to be part of John Abe Teague’s grazing operation. Thanks to John Abe for representing Shade Haven at grazing and beef cattle events around northeast Tennessee.