The Cattle Confinement Option
In mid-December the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) hosted the Cattle Confinement Symposium in Kearney. Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) was one of the founding members of AFAN. Steve Martin and his team are definitely champions for livestock development in our state and they put together a great program. Attendees traveled from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Colorado, and all parts of Nebraska. Featured speakers covered topics that included ventilation, nutrition, and animal health. The highlight of the event was the two producer panels; one was made of feeders and the other cow-calf producers. Peer to peer sharing is one of the most valuable tools in our industry. For those who take advantage of it, the networking and exchange of ideas is also an intangible benefit of your NC membership.
Just like no two cattle operations are the same, confinement buildings come in all shapes and sizes. Typically, they can be divided into a few broad categories. One major difference is the manure handling style: deep-pit or bed-pack. In deep-pit buildings the cattle are on concrete slats (usually covered with rubber mats) and manure is stored underneath the building and pumped annually (similar to a swine facility). With bed-pack buildings there is usually a concrete or earthen floor that is covered with bedding (most commonly shredded cornstalk bales). The other key feature is the roof shape. Cattle buildings usually have one of three roof types: Hoop (a curved roof usually covered by a canvas fabric), Mono-slope (where one eave is higher than the other), and Gable (a traditional peaked roof). Mono-slope and gable roofed buildings can be made out of both wood and steel.
So why so much interest in confinement buildings? It is no secret that mother nature made 2019 miserable at best. Weather (hot and cold) is usually one of the first things that comes up from producers who are considering building. Dropping calves in the mud, digging out of blizzards, calves going off feed during a summer heat wave are common catalysts for looking into confinements, but cattle buildings aren’t new in Nebraska. Bill Foxley built a 65,000 head confinement feedlot near Bartlett, NE decades ago. It continues in operation today as the largest under-roof facility in the country. However, there are still far more cattle raised outside than in buildings.
Clearly the drawback to a building is the large capital investment, but land prices and pasture rent don’t seem to be going down either. Some of the other positive comments about confinements that I hear are very consistent feed intake, more valuable manure, and easier to manage in terms of today’s environmental regulations. The question becomes do those perks justify the cost? Only you can answer that question, but more often the answer seems to be “Yes.”
The company I work for, Settje Agri-Services & Engineering, designs and builds cattle buildings and if you are thinking about one, of course, we’d love to visit with you, but what I want most is for you to be successful. Confinement buildings aren’t a magic bullet. They aren’t right for everyone. As I mentioned earlier each cattle operation is different. That is the beauty of the cattle business. We all have our own unique situation: labor, financial, space/land, etc. I’ve seen poorly designed facilities with great managers who are very successful and some fantastic facilities that are poorly managed and struggle mightily because of it. Ultimately, when it comes to cattle confinements and your success, the most important factor is matching the design of the facility with your management and your constraints.
If I can help you be successful, then I’d like nothing more. I also hope you’ll look to resources like Nebraska Cattlemen and AFAN as organizations that also want you to be successful. Best of luck and until next time, God Bless.
Jacob Mayer is a Project Engineer for Settje Agri-Services & Engineering located near Raymond, NE. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and has a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Biological Engineering from Mississippi State University. He resides in rural Weston, NE with his wife, Katie, daughter, Kirkland, and son, Hatten. He does not wear a pocket protector and does not know how to use a slide rule.