Make the most of fresh air – it’s free of charge

Fresh air is free, so beef producers should maximise its use and design livestock housing with good ventilation a priority, says cattle vet Diana Mills.

She thinks too many planners can tell where new sheds should be sited and what colour they should be, but not whether the design will work for livestock.

“And too many beef producers put up with pneumonia year on year.

Yet a new shed is an opportunity to control disease, particularly pneumonia, so it’s worth getting advice from a specialist consultant,” says Ms Mills, of Cheshire-based Deva Vets.

“Advice may cost several hundred pounds.

However, this isn’t even the price of one beast, whereas dealing with disease costs a frightening amount of money,” she adds.

Gone are the days when the aim was to keep stock warm indoors, as stocking densities were lower and cattle breeds were smaller.

Ms Mills believes there is now a tendency to overstock and says it only takes one animal too many in the same air space to create extra stress in a whole group.

“There is only so much profit in a cattle shed.

When you add more animals it starts to fall, as there is a limit to what a building can produce without disease starting to incur costs.”

With UK summers getting hotter in some parts of the country, heat stress can be an issue – and it is not helped by tin roofs.

Once cattle are heat stressed, they lose feed conversion efficiency and growth rates are affected.

Good ventilation, therefore, has to work in all weathers all year round.

Ms Mills says airflow is the key to good housing because there is a lot of moisture in an animal’s breath to be got rid of.

It helps create warm, humid conditions which are ideal for bacteria and viruses.

That is why poorly ventilated buildings lead to more respiratory disorders as well as digital dermatitis and foul.

But, she says, you don’t have to build new to improve conditions.

Existing buildings needn’t cost the earth to revamp.

“Improvements are nearly always about taking things off which costs nothing except a bit of time.

You don’t have to invest anything.”

The most common issue tends to be too few ventilation outlets.

Apart from reducing stocking density, barns with old hay lofts above, for instance, can easily have floorboards removed or hatches opened to improve air flow.

In more modern buildings, ridges should be opened up and space boarding removed.

Ms Mills suggests producers buy a smoke bomb kit – or set straw on fire in a tin bucket – to watch where smoke exits a cattle building.

This also shows which route animals’ breath and bacteria will take.

She also recommends sitting in a building for 10-15 minutes to take proper note of the conditions.

“If the building is too hot, smells of ammonia or cattle, if it’s stuffy or moisture drips off the roof and animals are wet, then you have a ventilation problem because there are not enough outlets for warm air to get out.”