Grazing Cattle Preference for Automated Water Troughs and Shade Trees versus Pond Use for Drinking and Heat Stress Mitigation

Author(s): Parish, J.; Rutherford, W.; Best, T.; Stewart, C.

British breed heifers aged 19 to 21 months and 4 to 6 months pregnant were grazed on a 25-acre pasture of ‘Kentucky-31’ toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue starting May 18, 2015 at the Prairie Research Unit in Prairie, MS. They were fitted with global positioning system collars that recorded position within the pasture at 5-minute intervals until July 28, 2015. Heifers had free-choice access to a surface pond, automated open-faced water trough supplied by well water, and shade trees. Heifers spent 73.9 ± 0.12% of time away from water and shade sources, 23.8 ± 0.12% of time in shade, 1.4 ± 0.03% of time at the water trough, and 1.0 ± 0.03% of time at or in the pond. Comparing time spent at drinking water sources directly, heifers were 1.4 times more likely to be at the water trough than the pond. In a direct comparison of shade use versus pond use for heat stress mitigation, heifers were 23.9 times more likely to be in the shade than the pond. Ambient temperature affected (P < 0.01) animal location within the pasture. Mean temperatures for the different location classifications were: shade (84.5°F), water trough (82.6°F), pond (81.8°F), and other (77.6°F). At greater ambient temperatures, heifers were more likely (P < 0.01) to be located under shade than at water sources or out grazing. Likewise, heifers were more likely (P < 0.01) to be grazing or otherwise away from shade and water sources at lesser ambient temperatures. These results suggest a strong preference by cattle for shade over pond use during late spring and summer as well as a preference for water trough use over pond use. Thus, by providing shade and an alternate drinking water source, pond use by cattle for drinking and heat stress mitigation purposes may be lessened.

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