Extreme weather changes seem to be the norm anymore, forcing cattle producers to look at different ways to protect their animals.
One of those methods is putting a roof over their heads. But that’s expensive, and it may not be feasible during a period of low cattle prices, says Travis Meteer, Extension beef specialist with the University of Illinois.
He says in his state, there are regulations that put pressure on feedlot operators. Meteer says larger feedlots have had to become compliant with those regulations. That adds to the financial burden.
“Construction costs are something you really have to watch,” he says. “We also are dealing with higher feed costs and labor costs.
“Farm profitability was extremely good 10 years ago after the drought of 2012 put a check in the pocket of some farmers. Cattle prices moved up, and so did the demand for confined feeding.”
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Meteer says the climate in the Midwest leans toward extreme temperature shifts. Performance under a roof has always shown an increase in feed efficiency and average daily gain, while also making sure cattle remain comfortable despite the weather outside.
“If you can keep control of everything, it’s really going to help you out,” Meteer says.
He says there is some interest in robotics when it comes to cattle feeding, and that will likely force animals into confinement to allow the robot to operate safely.
“If we do something like that, it will have to be housed indoors,” Meteer says. “I can see us moving that direction when it comes to cattle feeding.”
Research from South Dakota State University and Iowa State University shows the benefits and disadvantages of putting a roof over the cattle.
The research suggests that confinement barns help producers control manure runoff and help capture its nutritive value for crop production. Research also says the barn volume of manure and increased total nitrogen contributed to the difference in manure value from the barn. Reducing sickness may also be a benefit, but that is likely a seasonal occurrence.
The research also showed some notable disadvantages of confinement buildings, including the need for increased cleaning and bedding. Data indicates producers may need to clean anywhere from four times per week to every two weeks, with the majority cleaning two to three times per week. Bedding amounts averaged around 4.25 pounds per day.