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New barn helps SW Iowa cattle farmers avoid the mud

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John McCarthy, a cattle raiser near Red Oak, discusses the monoslope building on his cattle farm. McCarthy and his wife, Greta, worked with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) to determine the siting and other requirements for the building. PHOTO/BETHANY BARATTA

After battling rain and mud in a feedyard for years, John and Greta McCarthy thought there had to be a better way to raise their cattle.

“Thanksgiving weekend was 35 degrees, and we had 7 inches of rain. Cattle were standing down here in the old lot belly-deep in mud and shivering,” John said.

They knew that wasn’t good for cattle health or working conditions.

“We were looking to do something,” Greta said. “Land prices were higher, and we already had cattle in the pasture, so we invested in a building.”

More than 200 people traveled to the McCarthys’ farm last week near Red Oak to check out a monoslope facility the family is using to raise their cattle in various ways.

“We’ll use it in all aspects,” John said. “We use it for cow-calf, use it to background our yearlings. We use it to breed our heifers and wean our calves.”

The McCarthy family is the fifth generation on the farm, where they raise Angus and polled Herefords.

Contacting CSIF
However, before making the phone call to Summit Livestock Facilities to make the building plans, they called the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) for assistance.

“They know all the setback rules, all the watershed rules. They know where to go to talk about financing these projects, they know about the government rules and regulations,” John said. “They’re bringing all of these different sources together to one spot to help people who are interested in livestock farming. They are the center point, the hub, of all these different entities.”

Kent Mowrer, senior field coordinator for the coalition, said there are rules and regulations that apply to all different types of livestock farming and adding a monoslope is no exception.

“This facility is considered a small feeding operation. A lot of people think there are no rules that apply to it, but there are,” Mowrer said.

There are regulations regarding setback distances from the well and the creek to consider, he noted.

But before talking about those rules and regulations, Mowrer visited with the McCarthy family on their farm to determine their goals for their farm.

“We had a conversation about the future of the site. Is this the only barn? Will there be more? Those things matter when determining a good site for a barn like this,” Mowrer said.

He said consideration of neighbors is also a key in siting barns.

“When we site a barn, we figure out where it will have the least amount of impact as possible. That’s really what we want — to get them in the right spot from the DNR (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) perspective and the neighbor relations perspective,” Mowrer said.

Interest in cattle
The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers has seen in­­creased interest in cattle facilities, Mowrer said.

“We have had many comments from several producers that they would like to expand their cow herd, but they don’t have pasture available or pasture is too expensive. This is one way that they can grow their cow herd and do it in the same footprint,” Mowrer said.

The McCarthy family said adding the barn to their farm helps take the rain and the mud out of the equation.

“You can’t eliminate Mother Nature, but you can minimize her effects,” John said.

In addition, the manure from the facility adds value back to their row crops. They’re better able to handle and contain the manure, they said.

“We’re retrieving the nutrients, making that circle back to the fields,” John said.

Management  needs
Though now under roof, their cattle still require careful management, the McCarthys noted. They still have to scrape pens, manage manure and keep a close eye on cattle health.

However, they said, a nice working facility is worth the extra management. It’s nice to be able to move cattle through their handling facility rather than finding a makeshift workspace out in the pasture, they said.

“It is wonderful,” Greta said. “You don’t have to hope you can tie a cow to a bush or a bumper out in the pasture. We just move her, and we’ve got working facilities so the vet is able to take a closer look.”



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