As temperatures climbed into the mid-80s last week, cattle on Ted and Ben Novak’s farm near Elberon stayed cool and comfortable. The father-son team made sure of that with a variety of growing systems on their farm in Tama County.
Like the Novaks, cattle raisers across Iowa state have been adding structures — confinement barns, gable-roofed structures, hoop barns, monoslopes — as a way to keep their cattle out of the state’s extreme temperatures.
“A lot of farmers that we’re working with want to put up a cattle barn to help not only control the environmental aspect of things, but also increase cattle performance, especially in the summer months,” said Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.
David Rueber, a beef production specialist with Innovative Ag Services, said that the buildings remove a limiting factor in cattle performance.
“It provides shade in the summertime to drop that temperature 10, 20 degrees. In the winter, it’s protection from wind and cold, which allows them to have temperature improvements of 10, 20, 30 degrees,” Rueber said. “It moderates those effects and limits them. It doesn’t totally take them out of play, but it takes those extremes out.”
Easy to notice difference
Ben Novak (pictured right) says it’s easy to see difference in temperatures when he’s working with the cattle.
“Cleaning out the monoslope on a hot day, it’s a lot cooler inside,” Ben said. “You can only imagine what that’s doing for the cattle.”
On the Novak farm last week, cattle living in the slatted facility and the deep-bedded monoslope were 15 degrees cooler than those in the feedlot.
“Comfortable cattle are going to eat better and gain better,” said Bill Rubis, president of Iowa Beef Systems, which built the monoslope barn on the Novak cattle farm in 2014.
Out of snow, rain
Under a roof means cattle also keep from being exposed to direct sunlight or rain, which can mean mud and extra challenges for cattle movement.
Cattle spend less energy simply walking to a feed bunk rather than trudging through mud, Rueber said. Thus, he said, feed conversion rates are typically better in a controlled environment like a roofed structure.
Rueber said a typical rate might be 7 to 1, or 7 pounds of feed for 1 pound of gain. Inside a structure, it’s pretty common to see a 6.3 to 1 ratio, so less feed is needed to add body weight.
This is important for a farmer, Ted Novak (pictured left) said. “Feed is our number one cost,” he said. “If you can be more efficient, it makes you more competitive.”
While it protects animals, it doesn’t mean less work for the farmer, the Novaks said. “It’s not less management. It’s probably a little more,” Ted said.
One of the Novaks’ facilities has slatted flooring with a pit underneath. The farm’s Holstein cattle walk on three-quarter-inch rubber mats above the slats, which keeps cattle comfortable and helps eliminate stress on the cattle’s feet.
The slatted flooring means cattle aren’t resting in a sloppy feedlot or trudging through mud to get to feed and water. “It’s amazing how clean they are,” said Ted Novak, a Tama County Farm Bureau member.
The pit also adds more value to the manure, which is used as a fertilizer on the family’s crops, and has drastically reduced the potential for manure runoff from the 900-head capacity barn.
Another building on the farm is a monoslope, where cattle are bedded on a solid cement floor. Because the building isn’t completely enclosed, the cattle can take advantage of breeze and natural ventilation.
Planning is key when considering a new barn for cattle or any species of livestock, Waddingham said.
When siting a confinement, whether it’s cattle, hogs, turkeys, dairy or even fish, a farmer needs to consider setback distances from neighbors and public use areas, as well as soil types, specifically alluvial soils and karst soils, Waddingham said.
CSIF staff is available to help farmers determine if a barn would be a good fit for the farm, Waddingham said.
Another set of eyes
“It’s always a good idea to get a second set of eyes out to make sure you’re in compliance with all the rules and regulations,” he said.
The Novaks say their buildings are making their manure more valuable. And that’s helping them reduce fertilizer costs.
“We don’t buy any commercial P (phosphorous) and K (potassium) anymore,” Ted said. “Nitrogen is cut in half.”
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