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Hundt tackles problem of trees in pastures

Shade on demand is available with this portable structure invented by dairy farmer, Vince Hundt from Coon Valley, Wis., and two business partners. The canopy is 40 feet across and can cover 60 or more cattle.

Coon Valley farmer installs portable structure to provide shade on demand

COON VALLEY, Wis. - Graziers have long debated about trees. Should pastures and paddocks contain trees?
Yes, say some farmers. Trees create cooling shade.
No, say other farmers. Trees, like water, can prompt cattle to congregate, turning the area into a muddy, manurey mess that's a haven for flies.
Well, then, how about a portable tree - one that provides shade but can be moved to various locations?
Grazier Vince Hundt, Coon Valley, Wis., didn't actually concoct a portable tree. But he did come up with the idea for the Shade Haven.
Set up, it looks sort of like a flat umbrella on wheels. Or, imagine a giant may apple, only black and red instead of being all green.
Hundt and his wife, Dawn, hosted a pasture walk July 15 on their farm atop a ridge in southern La Crosse County. The Hundts use their Shade Haven to cool some of their beef feeders.
Until a couple of months ago, the couple kept 35 Jersey milk cows on one of their two farms. But they sold the Jerseys, Hundt said, because it was very difficult to get somebody to take care of the cows 24/7.
On their Poplar Coulee Ridge Farm - the home farm, purchased in 1978 - the Hundts milked for 14 years. Along with raising beef now, they also pasture raise hogs and chickens, marketing the meat directly to area consumers.
The Hundts ventured into rotational grazing six years ago. That first year, Hundt said the grass, cattle, fences and water were all just fine.
But he found one glaring problem. "The animals just stand out there in 85-95-degree sunlight and heat and just choke."
Using an infrared gun, Hundt said, he has recorded temperatures as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit off the back of a black beef animal on a summer afternoon. Move that same animal into shade, he said, and the temperature falls by at least 20 degrees.
Whether it's dairy cows being kept for milk, or beef cattle being raised for meat, excess heat is an enemy. Hundt turned his mind toward the problem and came up with the Shade Haven. He likens the contraption to a mobile tree - a tree with wheels.
His Shade Haven business partners, Guthrie Knapp and Peter Berquist, came up with the design a little more than two years ago.
A Shade Haven is not small. It's 9.5 feet tall. Its fabric top unfolds to form a circle 40 feet across. That's a big enough area, Hundt said, for 60 or more cattle to gather underneath and literally have it made in the shade.
"Farmers with only a dozen head or so can let their cattle spread out a bit more and lie luxuriously in the shade," the farmer said.
One of these shade units is simple to set up. The whole process takes only two minutes or less, according to Hundt.
Using a pole that has a hook on one end, reach up and unfasten two latches and a hasp. Then, still holding the pole, walk away in a semicircle and lock that first half of the cover into place. Do the same thing for the second half and then turn the crank on a windlass to tighten a cable around the outside of the cover and you're finished.
What about wind? Isn't that 40-foot-wide circle of fabric perfect for catching the breeze and tipping the whole machine over? Not to worry. Hundt said a Shade Haven tips the scales at about 2,800 pounds.
That means wind as strong as 35 miles per hour won't even wiggle it. But, he advises closing the awning if high winds are imminent or if a tornado warning has been issued.
Thanks to a pair of rubber-tired wheels, the Shade Haven is easily moved, its inventor said. Something as small as a golf cart or a garden tractor can move it around a pasture.
People are finding assorted uses for these portable shade devices. Hundt said a tent rental company bought one.
"Unlike a tent, in two minutes, it's there," Hundt said. "You can seat 64 people under it very comfortably."
So far, Hundt and his partners have sold 20 Shade Havens. They've gone to dairy, beef and goat farms in six states. Hundt said a veterinary clinic in Great Britain has ordered one, and he's gotten two inquiries from the Middle East emirate of Dubai.
As for the price, Hundt said, "We figure that if you have one of these in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa, it's going to cost you about $16 per day."
That number, Hundt added, is for about 100 days during the grazing season when livestock could really benefit from shade.
Approximately three dozen people turned out for the pasture walk sponsored by the Kickapoo Grazing Initiative and the Great River Graziers. As they walked out to one of the farm's pastures, there were the cattle, clustered around and under a Shade Haven.


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