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Cool Cows and Climate Change - Information for Dairy Farmers
Shade structures
Case Study: Dairy yard shade cloth structure
Case Study: Dairy yard solid-roofed shade structure
Sprinklers and fans
Case Study: Dairy yard sprinkler system


Dairy yard

Shade structures

Minimising heat gain through shade should be the first priority for farmers hoping to keep their cows cool.

There are two main options for providing shade in the dairy yard.

The cheapest is shade cloth and if well-constructed and maintained it can have a lifespan of at least 10 years. Solid-roofed shade structures last much longer, but are more expensive to build.

If complemented with sprinklers and air movement at milking time, shade provided at the dairy yard is particularly effective in cooling cows. If the cows’ skin is wet, air movement enhances cooling. It also allows for faster milk let down and more incentive for the herd to walk to the dairy.

Priorities for cooling cows

1. Use shade first

Minimise heat gain – block solar radiation

2. Use sprinklers and fans

Maximise heat loss – encourage evaporative cooling

Shade cloth structures

Shade cloth minimises solar radiation – the cows can voluntarily seek shade to off-load heat via evaporation.


  • Shade cloth is porous, so heat evaporated from cows can vent through it.
  • The small amount of radiation that penetrates through the shade cloth ensures the concrete surface regularly dries out, which prevents mould / bacteria from establishing on the concrete and reduces risk of the cows slipping.
  • Can be manufactured off-site then installed in a day.
  • Can be removed in cooler months.
  • In most council areas no planning permit is required, as shade cloth is not considered a solid roof structure.


  • Can be affected by hail damage and machinery exhausts.
  • Shorter lifespan compared to a solid-roofed structure.
  • If not well-designed and constructed, shade cloth can rip in high wind.

Solid roofed structures


  • Offers significant protection from both solar radiation and wet conditions.
  • Improves the operating environment for milking staff.
  • Much longer useful lifespan than a shade cloth structure.


  • A building permit is required.
  • There is a significant cost to build and it may take several weeks to build.

Keys to success

Shade cloth structures

  • SEEK PROFESSIONAL advice from a registered engineer and/or builder.
  • USE SHADE cloth with a minimum solar rating of 80%, minimum 300 GSM (gram per square metre), and at least a 10-year warranty against UV degradation. Green or black material is preferred.
  • APPLY SUFFICIENT tension to shade cloth to prevent damage during windy conditions. Monitor tension regularly, especially after strong winds.
  • MINIMUM HEIGHT should be 3.6 m (ideally 4 m) to allow for adequate airflow under the structure, effective use of sprinklers and fans, and good machinery access.
  • A PITCHED roof is better than a flat roof as it enhances convective air movement.
  • SUPPORT POSTS used should be structural grade steel. They should be located outside the dairy yard to prevent contact with manure and water, and so they don’t interfere with yard washing.
  • DEEP FOOTINGS should be left to cure for an extended period (at least 2-3 weeks) before bearing any load.

Solid-roofed structures

  • USE ALUMINIUM or white galvanised iron sheets to increase the rate of solar reflection.
  • MINIMUM HEIGHT should be at least 3.7 m at lowest roof height and at least 4.5 m along the centre to allow for adequate airflow underneath the structure, effective use of sprinklers and fans, and good machinery access.
  • ROOF PITCH should be at least 20° (ideally 30°) to enhance air movement.
  • A CONTINUOUS ridge opening will promote convective heat dissipation via the ‘stack effect’.
  • GUTTERING AND downpipes should comply with the state plumbing code.

Damage to shade cloth caused by tractor exhaust.

This shade cloth structure is only 3.5 m high.

Damage to shade cloth caused by poor maintenance.

Ensure that springs that become detached are re-attached

as soon as possible.

Australian Government - Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry