Constructing Effective Livestock Facilities

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Source: Nebraska Cattleman Magazine

By Shaye Koester, Contributing Writer

Processing and housing facilities are a necessity for livestock producers. They contribute to animal welfare, animal performance and an operation’s overall profitability, not to mention have an impact on labor efficiency and safety. When building and designing these facilities, many questions arise, such as: 1) What design is best? 2) Where do I start? 3) What steps can I take to make the process go smoother? and 4) Is this a project I can do myself or should I hire someone? All these components can easily be overwhelming, but tips, insights and advice from experts provide guidance on how to simplify the process and make it go as smoothly as possible.

Key Design Components

Success is a personal definition. The same goes for livestock facilities, which look different for every operation. An effective feedlot facility will differ from that of a cow-calf operation or a dairy. Further, they will vary from feedlot to feedlot and ranch to ranch.

“There is no perfect facility for every feedlot, dairy or cow-calf producer,” says Zach Settje, Settje Agri-Services partner. “The facility is simply a tool that helps you better manage animal performance, facilities maintenance and employee retention.”

There will always be things you wish you could’ve done a little different and things you will opt to change as you use the facility more. From a more technical and design standpoint, there are three key factors that contribute to successful facilities.

“Building design, good dirt work and communicating with your contractor are important,” says Brian Turner, Central Confinement Services president. This should come as no surprise since a solid foundation and good communication are critical to any project’s success.

Where to Start?

The starting point for creating a new facility includes evaluating how many head the facility needs to accommodate and then looking at which facility will match your location and operation goals. Don’t forget to factor in where you want your operation to be in 5 to 10 years in terms of overall size and labor force. Both Turner and Settje mention that producers either regret not building big enough right away or limit themselves on size because they didn’t maximize the space available on their property in the first place.

As you get started, it is important to develop a budget and understand what type of design your operation can afford.

“You need to know what your operation is going to be able to return in the coming years in order for you to make an educated decision on what budget and facility is going to work best for you,” Settje says. This goes back to understanding your operational goals and available resources.

If you are looking into confinement systems, flooring type is another consideration and decision to make early on.

“You need to evaluate which design will be the most beneficial to keep cattle comfortable in terms of hoops or monoslope designs,” Turner says.

How you manage your manure will help you decide which flooring option and building structure are the best fit, especially as you consider ventilation and the goals of your confinement system.

Project Timeline and Supply Chain Outlooks

Construction projects can take more time than initially thought, but you can do your part to move the process forward during a building project. Obtaining permits and factoring in lead time for getting building materials have the biggest impact on your timeline.

“Make sure everything is in order with your permit and financing to ensure the construction process can move forward,” Turner says. A simple hoop barn system typically takes 60 to 75 days to complete, and larger projects for feedlots can be completed within a construction season.

Supply chain issues haven’t been friendly to construction projects. The combination of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are ongoing causes for concern for continued supply chain disruption over the next 6 to 12 months. However, there are actions producers can take to help mitigate this challenge.

“When you start the process of your planning, design and construction, do not waste time,” Settje says. “It’s going to sound bad, but do not waste time thinking about things too long. If you spend a week or two deciding on something, that could compound into a month or two delay down the road.”

Hire It out or Keep It In-House?

Who should do the work? Like many other factors, the answer to this question is dependent on your time availability as a manager and the type of facility you are putting up.

“Either method is fine, but you need to realize that if you are already wondering how you are going to get everything else done and add a construction project to the mix, you probably need someone else to help you out,” Settje says.

If you have the time, labor and resources to handle the project yourself and still take care of everything else on your operation, then building it yourself may be an option to consider.

It’s no secret that a lot of work goes into designing and constructing livestock processing and handling facilities. You need to evaluate your operation’s goals, choose a facility that best fits your environment and property, decide who should do the work and obtain your permit and financing. Professional building contractors have the resources and experts to guide livestock producers in the right direction as they work to build facilities that meet their needs.

While there are a lot of steps, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With the right resources, you can make it a simple process, ensuring you made a worthwhile investment when the project is complete.

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