IMPERIAL VALLEY – Foster Feed Yard cattle manager, Jesse Larios, has a variety of methods to keep his cattle and employees cool and comfortable during Imperial Valley’s high summer heat. Larios is a second generation employee of the 36,000 capacity feed yard southeast of Brawley and has 62 years of experience raising cattle in the southwest.
As Larios prepares for the summer heat, not only does he think of his employees, but also the cattle. Cattle do not handle stress as well as humans, so it is important for feedlots to pay attention to heat stress indicators. Managing stress in livestock is essential for proper development and maintaining the animals’ welfare.
The major variables involved in combating the effects of high valley temperatures on livestock are access to regularly cleaned, cool water, and providing an ample amount of shade. Larios has a series of protocols that are critical to preventing heat stress and maintaining the highest level of animal welfare.
At the feed yard, Larios implements a “90-degree rule”, in which they minimize cattle handling when the outside temperature exceeds 90 degrees. He monitors the temperature hourly and records which time of day or night is the most suitable to move or handle the cattle. Actions restricted to the coolest part of the day are doctoring cattle, shipping them to-and-from the feed yard, and processing them for health checks. This strategy is also beneficial for the employees, who prefer to work during the coolest part of the day.
When cattle are stressed, they move around the pen to find a more comfortable place to relax. Because steers radiate an abundance of heat, Larios reduces the pen density at the feedlot to promote airflow and allow the cattle to scatter about as they please. In addition, Larios also runs water trucks for 20 hours a day to cool the ground down for the livestock.
Feed also plays a major key in reducing body heat. Feed is converted to energy, so by lowing the energy value of the feed, the cattle are able to maintain a lower body temperature. Feeding the livestock at the coolest part of the day encourages appetite and allows them to digest more efficiently. This also lowers the heat they produce by walking and eating during the hottest parts of the day.
Flies contribute added stress to cattle and cause them to bunch together for protection. To reduce fly populations, Larios has implemented a natural protocol that has been extremely successful to their operation.
“We try to use as little chemicals, baits, and poisons as possible, for the same reason I wouldn’t want to have them around my children,” Larios added.
For the last fifteen years, Larios has implemented a fly-predator program, which the predator does not fly nor sting. This fly predator crawls up to two miles and consumes fly pupae in the cattle manure. However, the fly predator reproduces at a significantly lower rate, so every week the feed yard receives a shipment of predator wasps to release, to keep pace with the pesky flies. The fly predator program is so successful on the Foster Feedlot, they went from using 500 pounds of fly bait to less than 30 pounds a year.
Foster Feed Yard produces some of the best quality beef in the world. The nation’s beef producers yield on average 75% choice beef (average quality) and less than 5% prime grade. In contrast, Larios’ last shipment of cattle graded 26% prime grade of beef, which far exceeded the national average of only 5%.
By providing top nutrition and focusing on cattle comfort, the program is in full stride. Larios’ heat stress management of the feed yard cattle ensures the continued delivery of happy, healthy cattle when soaring temperatures arrive. The proof is in the final product.