3 Areas of Cattle Comfort

Published on Tue, 05/07/2019 - 2:53pm

 3 Areas of Cattle Comfort

 By Bruce Derksen

 In todays interconnected society, it is important for producers to take note of cattle comfort.  Some might ask- What does it even mean and why should we worry about it?

Isn’t it enough that we feed, water and enclose them?  
Cattle comfort means different things to different people but is generally narrowed down to three somewhat separate sections- environmental comforts and protection from the elements of nature, the necessities of life provided plus more, and the comforts of low stress interactions and handling.  The less producers provide of these three types of care, the more likelihood of negative issues arising.  When livestock are too cold or too hot and stressed by nature, weight gain is reduced, feed intake and conversion levels drop, milk production falls, fertility suffers, and the immune system is suppressed leading to infections, illness, injury and metabolic problems.  Similar results occur when the necessities of life are minimalized, or when cattle face daily stresses from improper
handling and husbandry that tax their systems.
Environmental and weather effects on cattle comfort is likely the most obvious issue that comes to mind.  Air temperatures, wind directions and speed, precipitation, humidity levels, solar radiation and air freshness all impact the personal comfort levels of the animals but are variably controlled by the operation’s management practices and infrastructure.  For feedlot and pasture cattle, tree shelter belts or manufactured fences and windbreaks are extremely necessary for all seasons and areas of the country.  Cattle require access to sunlight and fresh air to be productive whether they spend the majority of their time indoors or outdoors.  Approximately 50% of their day is spent resting, so a comfortable dry place to lie down is essential.  In confinement barns and covered roofed buildings, protection against rain, snow, wind, excessive hot or cold temperatures can be manipulated and provide benefit. 

Providing the necessities of life is obviously important but shouldn’t be where the line is drawn as producers need to aim higher.  Stocking density is always one of the top concerns when housing livestock as cattle must have enough room to move about and rest in dry comfortable shaded conditions.  Quality feed and fresh clean water should not only be readily and conveniently supplied but access to it should be clear and safe for all animals.  For feedlot and barn cattle, ground, stall and floor surfaces should be kept dry and as clean as possible offering good footing and traction year-round.
The third type of cattle comfort often seems to be over-looked.  Cattle display their own emotional states, and most are forced to interact with human handlers and equipment, often on a daily or even semi-daily basis.  These interactions affect their stress levels and health status.  If they live in constant fear of the pen rider or the feed wagon, productivity, efficiency and good health falters.  Producers should always practice patient, low stress cattle handling especially from young.  A good first experience with limited stress and no fear are important for all animals, especially calves.  They will retain the memory of stressful or painful experiences.  Good owners exhibit cattle empathy and work to build trust and relationships with the animals.  “Time is money” cannot be the slogan of any operation.  On a basic level, handlers must understand the rules of flight zones and points of balance.  When handling, sorting, pulling or treating cattle, every movement along the animal’s path is a series of choices where it needs to believe it is making the desired one.  Practice, experience and training for handlers can help develop proper techniques that limit cattle stress.
Of course, there is over-lap in the different types of cattle comfort as each is affected by multiple issues.  Health, weight gain, feed conversion, carcass quality, milk production and fertility are all influenced to varying degrees by environmental conditions, availabilities of the necessities of life and stressful interactions with handlers.  Pasture, feedlot or barn conditions must be addressed to the best of the producer’s ability to limit the negative impacts that can arise and affect performance, efficiency and overall health.  Greater cattle comfort means lower levels of stress, which equals better animal care, higher production and more money in the wallet.  It all ties together.