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Hoop-Ta-Do

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:17pm

Every day -- even in midwinter -- it feels like a 70-degree F. day in Bryan Reed's cattle feedlot. That's since the Albia, Iowa, cattle producer put up a 300-foot-long hoop building for finishing out the calves from his 250-cow herd.

The hoop structure, 40 feet wide and 22 feet high at the peak, replaces outside dirt (and oftentimes mud) lots. Reed has put just one group of calves through the building so far. They were weaned into the structure in the fall of 2008 and marketed the following summer.

"They did really well," says Reed. "We had lots of cold, wet, and windy weather that winter, and the cattle never showed any stress. They acted like it was always 70 degrees in there."

The building pays off in several ways, he says, but the three big ways are the environmental aspects, feed efficiency, and performance.

New animal-feeding regulations allow zero tolerance regarding waste discharge into waterways. Reed's hoop building is 100% contained within the structure. About once a week, Reed pushes manure in an alleyway along the south side of the building to a holding area at the far east end (all under the roof). There it is kept in indoor storage until he can haul it to fields as fertilizer.

"There is no manure discharge into any waterways with this facility," says Reed. "And it's a much more consistent manure product, too. In my old outside lots, I could have a wet spell, then a dry spell, and that changed the consistency of the manure. I don't get that when it is all inside. I can put a higher value on it when I know it's that consistent."

Reed uses straw or stalk bedding at the back of cattle pens, along the north wall. That part of the pens is only cleaned out once or twice a year. As new bedding is added there, it begins to compost and eventually maintains a depth of about 2 feet even as new bedding is added.

Escalation in feed costs was a big part of Reed's decision to build a hoop structure for finishing cattle. It cost about $400 per head of capacity to build, but he says just a 5% improvement in feed efficiency will more than pay for it. "Anything over that is in my pocket," he notes.

Reed thinks he probably gets that much improvement in efficiency just from the reduction in feed waste. The feed bunks are along the south side of the hoop building, and the overhang of the roof covers them and keeps feed dry. "In my old outside lots, when it rained or snowed, I had to throw out spoiled feed. I won't be doing that in this building," he says.

The feed efficiency benefits go beyond reduced feed waste. With cattle comfortable, dry, and always out of the wind, he says they grow to their maximum potential. Some tests show that feed efficiency improvement of cattle inside a structure like this, compared to outside, is 15% or more.

After putting one group of cattle through the facility, Reed says there is no question it will pay off. He doesn't have exact comparisons of performance between old and new, except that his cattle from the hoop structure went to market about a month ahead of the year before, when he fed in outside lots.

"It was a bad winter that previous year, and I had some cattle that finished way behind schedule," he says. "That's not going to happen in this building.

"I market on the grid, where the cattle are rewarded for grading choice, and I had a lot higher percent choice this year in the hoop building," continues Reed. "They were the same genetics, so I think the difference is that this structure means they have less stress. And they perform to their full potential."

Every day -- even in midwinter -- it feels like a 70-degree F. day in Bryan Reed's cattle feedlot. That's since the Albia, Iowa, cattle producer put up a 300-foot-long hoop building for finishing out the calves from his 250-cow herd.

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