It is hard to ignore the signs of feedlot expansion in the Upper Midwest.
Cattle on feed numbers have increased in many of the Upper Midwest states, and this is in spite of increasing corn and feeder calf prices. These occurrences, coupled with the large investment involved with a new feedlot facility, make cattle feeding margins very tight, and force feedlot managers to be as efficient as possible when managing their feedlots.
Due to the harsh climate in the Upper Midwest, we are often at the forefront of feedlot design to minimize the effects of climate on cattle performance. This has certainly been evident over the last 10 years with the increased presence of bed-pack facilities, and in particular monoslope facilities.
Facilities like these have been extremely valuable in the past year providing protection from a harsh winter as well as from the extreme heat and humidity experienced this summer.
More recently, there has been renewed interest in slatted-floor facilities. These feedlot facilities offer advantages in that they retain most of the nutrient value of excreted manure, have a smaller footprint than other facility types, and require little if any bedding. The smaller acreage required as well as the improved manure quality are important aspects for the diversified feeder-farmers that make up most of the Upper Midwest feedlot industry.
When considering new construction the decision needs to be based on a number of factors. Among these are type of cattle to house, land available, value and topography of land, and the local feedlot environment.
The basic dirt-surfaced, open-pen feedlot still has a place in the industry, and recent feedlot expansions of this type have been successful. This type is the lowest cost for new construction or expansion, which is likely the greatest advantage while disadvantages such as limited protection from the environment, need for occasional bedding, and partial loss of manure nutrient value due to volatilization need to be considered as well.
This type of facility works well if adequate land is available and the land has some slope, preferably a south-facing slope. These facilities typically allow approximately 250 square feet of pen space per head, so a large amount of land is needed to construct this type of facility.
Bed-pack monoslope facilities provide advantages over open lots in that they provide more protection from the climate. Their cost is typically about twice per head space of an open lot.
These facilities also require increased management in the form of increased bedding, scraping, and manure hauling.
A general rule is to assume that each head space will require approximately five pounds of bedding per day, which equates to nearly one ton of bedding per head space annually. For a 1,000 head feedlot, this means that approximately 2,000 corn stalk bales (or other form of bedding) will be needed each year.
This is certainly an important consideration for this facility type. However, it is hard to argue with the predictability of performance that these facilities allow.
Cattle in monoslope facilities perform relatively consistent throughout the year regardless of climate, whereas cattle in open lots will vary in performance based on climatic conditions. Cattle in these facilities are typically allotted approximately 40-45 square feet per head, or approximately 1/6 of what is allowed in an open lot.
Slatted floor facilities provide an advantage over monoslopes in that they require a smaller footprint and very little, if any, bedding. Cattle in this facility type are generally allotted between 20-25 square feet per head, or approximately half of what is allowed in a monoslope.
Slatted-floor facilities also allow for retention of manure nutrient value in the form of liquid manure, and in most cases these facilities are designed to allow for once-yearly manure hauling.
This type of facility requires much less management than a monoslope facility or even an open lot, but comes at a greater cost. Slatted floor facilities will typically cost approximately 50 percent more than a monoslope facility and three times as much as an open lot.
A second potential disadvantage of this type of facility is the greater prevalence of feet and leg problems due to concrete floors or slats. In many cases, producers only place cattle on slats that are within 100-125 days of harvest, though successful longer-term feeding has been reported. Some producers report that 2-5 percent of cattle will not finish on slats and will need to be moved to dirt surface or bed pack facility. Rubber mats are available to place over slats to allow for improved cattle comfort, though the cost of the pads ranges from $75-175 per head space.
Performance comparisons are difficult to make because they are highly dependent on climate. Data from South Dakota State's Opportunities Farm show an advantage in a monoslope and a partially covered lot compared with an open lot in the fall and winter, and the advantage was not present in the spring or summer.
In general, cattle will perform similarly in dry, warm weather, and the confinement facilities will provide advantages in poorer conditions. Feed intake will generally be reduced by approximately 5-10 percent in the slatted floor facilities due to less bunk space, limited water space, or other factors. However, the reduction in gain is generally not as great, resulting in comparatively greater feed efficiency in slatted floor facilities.
The bottom line is that management can be the difference between profits and losses in any facility. Though some facilities may provide advantages over others, these advantages can quickly be negated by poor management.
The decision in building or expanding will depend on a number of the factors mentioned above, and there is no ideal facility type to fit the goals of every producer.
This topic and others will be discussed at length at the upcoming Minnesota Cattle Feeder Days. Please visit the Beef Team website at www.extension.umn.edu/beef or on Facebook at University of Minnesota Beef Team for more info on this or any other beef-related topic.