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Management Considerations for Cattle Confinement Facilities

By Heidi Carroll

Beef housing systems and their management was the topic for the April 4th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar. Beth Doran, Extension Beef Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, provided insight and examples of critical management areas for confinement barns and facilities used for beef.

Cattle comfort and well-being within the pen environment directly impacts animal performance and health. This is true for any type of husbandry system, whether confinement, open dry lot, or on pasture. What determines cattle comfort? Doran provided ten variables to be aware of to optimize cattle comfort. These variables include: air temperature, wind, precipitation, relative humidity, shelter, solar radiation, pen surface, animal body condition, animal surface per unit weight, and hair coat.

Confinement barns provide some advantages to both the animals and caregivers compared to outside pens or pasture systems. For example, confinement barns allow producers to control manure runoff and capture its nutrient value for crop production. One estimate of manure value for a mono-slope barn is around $172 per space per year with an assumption of 10 tons per space per year produced, compared to $73 per space per year with only 5 tons per space per year from an open feedlot. Barn volume of manure and increased total nitrogen contributed to the difference in manure value. Additionally, producers may see reduced animal sickness and some improvements in performance, but this may be based on season or quarter. Confinement barns truly excel for light-weight calves when there are muddy conditions, rain and freezing temperatures, and cold and windy conditions. Fat cattle especially benefit when conditions are muddy and hot and sunny. Black-hided cattle and dairy steers also can see observable benefits for comfort.

Producers report some notable disadvantages of confinement barns. Increased cleaning and bedding is more than a producer may think to maintain a comfortable, clean pen. Data has shown that producers may clean anywhere from 4 times per week to every 2 weeks, but the majority are cleaning 2 to 3 times per week. Average bedding was reported around 4.25 pounds per head per day with a range of 2 to 10 pounds at the time of the survey; today’s average may be closer to 5-7 pounds. Producers managing bed packs have two options, deep bedding or shallow bedding.

Table 1 shows a comparison of the two bed packs for various characteristics.
 


Deep Bedding
Shallow Bedding
Pack Moisture, %63.167.2
Pack Temperature, ᵒ F70.265.2
pH7.696.90
Generic E. coli, log CFU/g6.026.72
Branch Chain VFA2.573.81
Aromatics1.954.42
Surface Temperature, ᵒ F63.561.4

* Data collected in April through June 2009; USDA-ARS Meat Animal Research Center.

Consideration should also be given to the type of bedding materials locally available and their estimated absorbencies to minimize costs. The type of manure storage and handling system may also dictate which bedding materials, if any, may be used to minimize equipment problems and meet environmental stewardship expectations.

Producers have many floor types and material options on the market, so critically evaluating cattle comfort, safety, and health should play into the final decision. Confinement barns have solid or slatted floors. Enhancing solid cement floors with some scoring can minimize cattle slips by providing more traction. Slatted floors can be enhanced by adding rubber mats. Mats are beneficial to optimize cattle locomotion and comfort especially for cattle housed for longer feeding periods.

Doran concluded with a discussion about the importance of managing mud and manure scores, in any beef confinement system. A handout to learn how to score mud and manure on cattle and in pens is available courtesy of the Iowa Beef Center. Mud and manure that hangs on an animal’s hide can have negative impacts including:

  • Increased heat and cold stress
  • Decreased average daily gains and feed efficiencies
  • Decreased dressing percent of carcass
  • Decreased hide value approximately worth $30 for cleaning
  • Increased potential for E. Coli 0157:H7 being present on hide and contacting meat
  • Risk of recall of contaminated meat
  • Poor animal hygiene or beef recalls lead to consumers losing confidence
     
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