When brothers Curt and Mike Clark decided they both wanted to return to the family’s farm after college, they knew they had to expand the family’s cattle business in order to make it a viable option for both of them. But like many cattle farmers, they had a difficult time finding pasture to accommodate a growing herd.
So they looked at calving under roof as an option. Five years ago they started attending meetings and talking to other farmers. They attended multiple events the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers hosted to meet other farmers and get an idea of how they could raise cow-calf pairs under roof.
They filled their hoop barn with cattle at the beginning of 2015. Last week, the brothers co-hosted a calving under roof field day with their neighbors, Chad and Amy Wilkerson of Linden.
When the Wilkerson family of Dallas County was looking to diversify their hog and grain farm, they decided cow-calf pairs would be a good fit for them, but, like the Clarks, they lacked the pasture acres necessary to raise cattle. So they attended multiple field days and talked to several farmers who were raising cattle under roofed structures.
They then also decided that a hoop barn would fit their farm and their needs best.
"We couldn’t find any pastures, and we knew that we wanted to have a better control of the business model: cattle health, nutrition and breeding," Chad said.
Last January the Wilkersons filled their hoop barn for the first time.
Moe Russell, president of Russell Consulting Group, said there are many reasons why farmers are considering calving under roof.
One of the biggest advantages is the increased value of the manure coming from a structure rather than cattle raised outdoors. Farmers are able to capture the manure, which can then be tested and applied on their row crops.
"We take samples to understand the composition of the manure and what our crop needs, and then we’re able to apply the manure onto our fields,’ Mike Clark said.
And because the manure and bedding pack breaks down in the building before being applied to the fields, it’s easier to spread. The manure is also worth more, the Clarks said.
"We’re able to spread about 100 to 150 acres with that manure," Curt said. That saves them money on other fertilizer costs, they said.
By raising cattle under roof, the labor is more predictable, Russell added. A roofed structure means that farmers aren’t battling extreme weather conditions as they would on pasture.
"We had five inches of rain and three calves were born during that time, and everything was fine," Amy said. But, had those calves been born in the pasture during a heavy rain, they would have battled mud to get to that calf, she said.
Because of the hoop structures, cows and their calves aren’t exposed to extreme heat. The barns have been 10 to 20 degrees cooler than outside temperatures this summer, the families said.
And during the colder months of the year, the cow-calf pairs are protected from snow. The dry bedding inside of the hoop structures makes a comfortable spot for the pairs.
Increased birth rates
Raising cows and calves under roof has been shown to increase conception and birth rates versus cattle out on pasture, Russell said.
That’s another benefit the Wilkerson and the Clark families have seen. Because they raise cattle under roof now, they utilize an artificial insemination (AI) program for breeding.
For the Wilkerson and the Clark families, a hoop barn was the best option to expand their farms to bring more family members back to the farm. But calving under roof might not be for everyone, they said.
"It is labor intensive," Mike said.
"It’s not like having cattle in a pasture and checking them every few days," Chad added. "This is a daily chore."
But having the cow-calf pairs in one location rather than spread out over several acres of pasture allows the families to keep a close eye on their livestock, they said.
"It’s a better environment for us and for our cattle," Curt Wilkerson said. "It’s less stress on all of us."