Iowa cattle farmers last week said adding a calving barn to their farm has taken the weather out of the equation when it comes to calving and allows farmers to focus on cow and calf care. And that’s a big advantage.

“What really drove me to build barns was ease of calving in a more controlled environment,” Brent Voss, a cattleman from Dexter, told 270 attendees at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmer’s (CSIF) Farming for the Future conference last week. Voss and his family use their cattle barns to feed cattle and bulls and raise cow/calf pairs.

“Being under a roof and not under the stars has been a big plus for us.”

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, 75 percent of calf deaths occur during the first week of life largely due to nutrition and weather-related complexities, said Tim Bickett, system consultant for Hoop Beef System LLC. Having cows and their calves under roof provides opportunities to better focus on cow and calf nutrition, he said.

Weather out of equation

Bickett says calving in barns helps take the weather out of the equation and allows calving when the outside conditions aren’t favorable to calf health. By doing so, cattle farmers could potentially sell cattle during the fall, when they would fetch a better price.

Randy Sparks of Panora has maximized his barn by calving twice a year.

Using a barn for calving is not only a good fit for his marketing plan, but it’s also allowed both his son and his daughter to come back to the farm.

Amy Wilkerson of Linden says her family’s barns are used in many ways on their farm. They’re not only used to grow calves, but also used in their custom embryo recip cow business. She said pasture and land availability were factors in deciding to build barns for calving.

“We always had a few cows, but there wasn’t enough pasture available to grow. In order to have more cows, we had to find a different way,” she said.

All the panelists worked with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) prior to adding barns to their farms.

The CSIF team laid out the rules and regulations that ap­plied to adding barns to their farms. They looked at things like soil types and separation distances from neighbors, water sources and manure management plans — just to name a few. With the free, confidential help from CSIF, they got started on the right track to grow their farms. Panelists said reaching out to others who have added cattle barns to their sites and building their team of experts, like CSIF, were essential in adding their barns.

Cattle farmers said careful management is key when calving under roof. “You’re going to have to learn how to manage calving in a building,” Sparks said. “It can be done, but you have to be dedicated.”

 There are trade-offs from calving on pasture to calving in the barn, Wilkerson said. “It’s extremely easy to care for animals and calve out in the barn. We don’t have to worry about fixing fence, hauling water … We feed and bed every day, but we don’t have to chase cows. It’s a trade-off,” she said.

For more information about calving under roof, or for a free, confidential assessment of your farm, call the Coalition at 1-800-932-2436.