Most people probably think feedlots are only about feeding cattle to provide beef for our dinner tables. During a recent SDSU Extension Feedlot Tour, attendees learned how some feedyard owners are more than just cattle feeders.
"Although cattle feeding is a tiny part of the daily routine for modern feeders; attention to cattle care and comfort was also a focus within the four feedlots included on this tour," explained Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Associate.
The July 14, 2015 feedyards tour included visits to the following South Dakota feedyards; Redstone Feeders of Iroquois, Warkenthien Feedyard of Clark, Moes Feedlot LLC of Florence, and J & J Farms of Bruce.
Below, Carroll, along with Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist and Reid McDaniel, SDSU Extension Beef Feedlot Specialist, outline the unique features highlighted during the tours.
Calf eating with the bunk bar in the middle position; Moes Feedlot.
Cattle in an open lot at Redstone Feeders that has both a wind break and sprinklers.
Cement wall with sloping pen at J & J Farms to assist with runoff control.
"Bud Box" facility for loading cattle onto trucks at J & J Farms.
Health and comfort
A unique feature of Moes' Feedlot is that the bars above the bunk line can be adjusted to three different heights to accommodate feeding cattle of various sizes; from 200 pound calves up to market ready animals.
Animal health is a key component to every feedyard. As McDaniel explained, communication between the ranch and feedyard allows managers to do a better job of tailoring vaccination protocols to match the health status of incoming calves. This better allows managers to carefully use antibiotics to treat calves when they get sick.
"Redstone Feeders communicates with their suppliers to design vaccination protocols on the ranch which has resulted in less sickness and death loss at the feedyard," McDaniel said.
John Moes, manager of Moes Feedlot LLC, also stressed the importance of cleaning waterers to prevent sick animals and to encourage adequate water intake, "If you wouldn't drink from it, neither will the calves," Moes said.
Because cattle comfort is challenged by the weather, sprinkler systems for open lots were utilized by several feedlots to assist in cooling the cattle during times of heat stress. Additionally, wind blocks were incorporated into open lots to protect cattle from cold winter winds.
"Special attention to pen maintenance is key to cleaner, healthier animals," Rusche said.
The Warkenthien Feedyard tour showcased three types of pens: bed-pack hoop barns, open concrete pens, and open dirt with concrete apron pens scraping manure, maintaining dirt mounds, and adding bedding is an art when the weather constantly changes.
At Redstone and Moes, the monoslope pens are cleaned and bedded about one to two times per week. While J & J Farms have all dirt lots which require regular pen scraping and maintenance of proper slope to allow water drainage in order to reduce mud hole formation.
"Each pen type requires attention to detail and lots of hours of hard work to ensure a dry, comfortable environment in which the cattle live," Carroll said. "These practices minimize disease pathogens, promote good cattle health which can lead to fewer foot problems or sick cattle, and increase cattle performance."
Cattle handling practices
Handling cattle for sorting, vaccinations, weighing or loading is just part of a feedlot's routine. "Proper facilities are paramount to keep cattle and workers calm, safe and stress-free," McDaniel explained.
J & J Farms has a "Bud Box" design leading to their hydraulic chute and load out ramp while the other three feedlots used various versions of a curved tub design.
"Both of these facility designs are based on working with the cattle's natural behavior which helps minimize stress," McDaniel said. "The feedlots used rubber mats, grooved concrete or dry clay/dirt to maintain good footing throughout the handling areas to prevent cattle slips and falls."
Nutrient management plans
Feed that goes into the cattle must come out – the reason feedlots are required to have a nutrient management plan in place to protect the environment and any waterways surrounding it from manure runoff.
Redstone Feeders shared that applying the cattle manure to their fields improved the quality of the historically poor soil, which led to increased crop yields and decreased dependence on commercially available fertilizer.
J & J Farms is able to use the waste water from the lagoon to irrigate their crops. "This beneficial practice of applying manure and waste water to crops is used by many feedlots and livestock managers to be good environmental stewards," Rusche said.
Other ways to prevent runoff included the use of grass buffer/filter strips between pens and the sediment basins/lagoons. Strategic plantings of shelter belts around pens and barns assist in filtering odor and providing additional wind blocks.
J & J Farms also built cement walls to slow and direct runoff from the open lots to their lagoon which ensures the Big Sioux River remains clean.
Looking to the future
"Continuous improvement was on the minds of all feedlot owners and attendees," Carroll said, noting that incorporating methane digesters into future manure management plans to create renewable electricity was discussed. "Several of these feedlots have active plans in place to bring the next generation of family members onto the farm."
A few changes discussed for improvement during the tour included: changing barn wall heights to increase air flow, adding more pen waterers and building new feed storage facilities.
"The continuous improvements have a positive impact on cattle comfort, health and performance which in turn helps the owners remain economically, environmentally and socially sustainable," McDaniel said.
Plans are underway for the 2016 SDSU Extension Feedlot Tour.
SDSU Extension thanks the Wilkinson, Warkenthien, Moes, Johnson and Janssen families for the time and hard work in preparing for the tours.
SDSU Extension would also like to thank Kingsbury County, Clark/Hamlin, Coteau Hills, and East Central Cattlemen's groups for their contributions.
Feedlot tour sponsors included: Zoetis, Purina Land O Lakes, Cornbelt Livestock Services, Dakotaland Feeds, Payback – Nutritional Formulations from CHS, and South Dakota Cattlemen's Association.