Story in partnership with Entegra.
When cattle arrive at the Teys Australia Victorian feedlot, they are now divided for scientific purposes.
There's nothing new about sorting arrivals at a feedlot, but this specific drafting is set to provide data to answer a vital industry question.
To shed or not to shed.
Or more specifically, what is the best for animal health?
This first inhouse trial at the Charlton feedlot, in the state's North Central, has been running for 90 days and will finish when the cattle are processed at 120 days.
Teys Australia Charlton Feedlot General Manager Ash Sheahan said on arrival animals were sent to either a traditional feedlot pen - covered partially with shade cloth - or to the new Entegra Ridgeback™ shed.
"One animal is in the shed and their counterpart is outside, so conditions can be compared directly," he said.
"We will look at feeding efficiency, carcass weight and the animal's health."
It's only early days but Ash said there was anecdotal evidence that the animals under the shed had a higher feed intake than their outside equivalent.
There were also other benefits, especially considering this recent wet winter.
"With bedding in the shed, there's less mud on the cattle," he said.
"It's a comfort thing and also for the (processing) plant, they won't have to spend as much time washing the animal prior to slaughter."
Ridgeback™ is a patented Entegra design and is used throughout the Australian beef and dairy industries to provide shade, shelter and maximise air circulation.
This Teys trial will run for two years, including various groups of animals, to encapsulate all seasons and weather conditions.
Other parameters tested as part of this trial include comparing the individual animal average daily weight gain between the groups, weather conditions and odour.
Separately, Teys will also trial various bedding beneath the Ridgeback™ to determine what suits the facility and what "holds-up" the best.
Straw was used for the initial bedding as it was "the most cost effective" at the time, according to Ash.
Ash believed the bedding under the Ridgeback™ will play a big part in determining the odour omitted from the facility.
Although it's only early days, he said the straw bedding meant there was a "different" smell under the Ridgeback™ compared to the traditional shade cloth style pens and he thought this would change as more bedding was added under the shed.
Weather data will be collected and compared with the outside pens.
"We are going to have other sensors in the shed so we can tell the actual difference in temperature, wind speed and humidity," Ash said.
"Panting scores will be compared but only when we start hitting triggers for heat loads."
A vertically integrated cattle processing company, it operates six beef processing plants, two food manufacturing facilities, a hide processing site, a centralised distribution facility and three feedlots.
The Charlton feedlot is a joint venture between the family-owned Teys company and global agricultural, financial and industry products and services business Cargill. It was purchased in 2014.
About 60,000 British bred steers a year leave the North Central Victorian feedlot for processing at a Teys abattoir.
The introduction of permanent covered housing at Charlton was initially prompted by the rebuilding of the feedlot's hospital pens.
Ash said housing sick or injured cattle under a permanent structure provided "by far the best outcome" for these animals.
But once the Ridgeback™ started taking shape, he said they realised it could be more than just a place for animals to recover.
"With our environment here, in southern Victoria, we have wet winters and we are always looking for other ways to improve our facilities for the winter months," Ash said.
"We've done a lot to improve the pen surfaces over the years, which has reduced the mud levels in winter months, and also resurfacing floors and pens when it does dry out in spring and summer. But we are always looking for new ways to improve."
With this in mind it was decided to use half the 200 metre long Ridgeback™ as a trial to generate data on the value of feeding cattle under a roof and the other half - as intended - as hospital pens.
The hospital side of the shed measures 100 by 36 metres and is split into smaller pens.
The feeding part of the shed is the same size and has four pens and a feed bunker down one side of the shed.
It was a wet start to spring which meant cattle in the Charlton feedlot's traditional outside yards were spread out.
Reducing stocking density is a management tool used to reduce mud in winter.
Similarly, in summer, cattle are "tightened-up" in the yards to limit dust.
But given the reduced stocking rate on the feedlot this winter, it meant the cattle housed under the Ridgeback were stocked at "almost double" their outside equivalent.
At six square metres a head under the Ridgeback, the cattle stocking density was within national guidelines and, most importantly, Ash said, they looked "very, very happy" to be out of the rain.
Weather aside, Ash said housing cattle under a roof could be an option to feed more cattle without having to expand the feedlot.
He said this could be good news for the industry as there are strict regulations for the development of feedlots.
"It could be a way of expanding numbers on feed without growing the footprint of your feedlot," Ash said.
"Having more cattle on the same area, within the same boundary, without physically spreading. There's potentially more efficiencies too."
Exploring options for expansion comes off the back of a strong few years for Australia's feedlot industry.
The number of cattle on feed in Australia continues to remain at historically high levels.
The most cattle on feed in Australia was earlier this year - from January to March.
Intrigued by the ventilation attributes of the Ridgeback, Ash said the decision for Teys to purchase a patented Entegra shed was confirmed after he visited the Northern Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association (NTLEA) Ridgeback™ at its Berrimah Export Yards.
"A mate of mine runs a place in the Territory and they export cattle that have spent time in both (types) of yards - outdoor and the covered Berrimah yards," Ash said.
"It was a bit of a rough trial but he found improved gains at the covered yard before the cattle went on the boat."
The construction of the Ridgeback™ at Charlton builds on Entegra and Tey's long term business relationship.
Entegra previously constructed hay sheds for the feedlot and Ash said the shed company "had always been good to deal with".
But like all of the industry, Ash said Entegra were also keen on Teys' inhouse trial.
"They really wanted to work with us and get their sheds proven in the industry," he said.
For now though, it's confirmed, a wet winter is much better under the shelter of a Ridgeback™.
Story in partnership with Entegra.