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Evaluation of Solar Photovoltaic Systems to Shade Cows in a Pasture-Based Dairy Herd

The combined use of solar photovoltaics and agriculture may provide farmers with an alternative source of income and reduce heat stress in dairy cows. The objective of this study was to determine the effects on grazing cattle under shade from a solar photovoltaic system. The study was conducted at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota on a grazing dairy. Twenty-four crossbred cows were randomly assigned to 2 treatment groups (shade or no shade) from June to September in 2019. The replicated (n = 4) treatment groups of 6 cows each were provided shade from a 30-kW photovoltaic system. Two groups of cows had access to shade in paddocks, and 2 groups of cows had no shade in paddocks. All cows were located in the same pasture during summer. Behavior observations and milk production were evaluated for cows during 4 periods of summer. Boluses and an eartag sensor monitored internal body temperature, activity, and rumination on all cows, respectively. Independent variables were the fixed effects of breed, treatment group, coat color, period, and parity, and random effects were replicate group, date, and cow. No differences in fly prevalence, milk production, fat and protein production, or drinking bouts were observed between the treatment groups. Shade cows had more ear flicks (11.4 ear flicks/30 s) than no-shade cows (8.6 ear flicks/30 s) and had dirtier bellies and lower legs (2.2 and 3.2, respectively) than no-shade cows (1.9 and 2.9, respectively). During afternoon hours, shade cows had lower respiration rates (66.4 breaths/min) than no-shade cows (78.3 breaths/min). From 1200 to 1800 h and 1800 to 0000 h, shade cows had lower body temperature (39.0 and 39.2°C, respectively) than no-shade cows (39.3 and 39.4°C, respectively). Furthermore, between milking times (0800 and 1600 h), the shade cows had lower body temperature (38.9°C) than no-shade cows (39.1°C). Agrivoltaics incorporated into pasture dairy systems may reduce the intensity of heats stress in dairy cows and increase well-being of cows and the efficiency of land use.