Planning ahead for summer feedlot maintenance

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Quality of the feeding environment can greatly impact the performance and cost-of-gain in a cattle backgrounding or finishing operation.

“Cattle might possess the greatest genetics for growth and carcass merit and be fed the most finely tuned ration nutritionists can formulate, but if the feeding environment is too stressful, those animals will simply not perform as well as expected,” said Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist. “For example, as little as 4 to 8 inches of mud can reduce performance and feed efficiency by about 13 percent.”

To maximize control over environmental factors, Rusche said many cattle producers are considering confinement systems such as monoslopes and hoop buildings – however, even with these structures he reminds producers that cattle still spend some time in the yard.

“The reality is, the majority of cattle will spend at least some time in an outside yard. So, paying extra attention to yard maintenance is an opportunity to improve the bottomline of cattle feeders,” he said.

For many cattle feeders in South Dakota, especially backgrounders, Rusche said the summer months are a great time to address and correct any problems that might be present in open lots.

“There is usually some time during the summer when the pens are drier and empty, providing the opportunity to do some prep work before fall,” Rusche said.

Drainage issues

When prioritizing which issue to fix first, Rusche said solving drainage problems needs to be the first order of business. “The key principle is to keep upstream water from flowing into the feedyard,” he said. “Water that never makes it into the pen cannot cause any additional mud problems.”

Examine the upstream water flow and see if any of the diversion structures need some additional maintenance.

Dirt mounds

Dirt mounds in an open yard also need to be maintained to keep them working as designed. Cattle should have 30 to 50 square feet of mound space per head with a 4:1 to 5:1 slope on the sides.

“Cattle should be able to walk from the concrete apron to the mound without having to walk through any potholes or muddy areas,” Rusche said.

Compacted soil should be used to build backup mounds or fill in low spots rather than using manure scraped from the pen.

Concrete aprons

When constructing or expanding concrete aprons, Rusche said that at a minimum they need to be wide enough so cattle can pass behind their pen mates while they are eating. “Wider aprons mean that more of the manure ends up on the concrete rather than on the pen surface. Almost no one regrets pouring concrete aprons that are too wide.”

Other considerations

Equipment such as box scrapers do an excellent job of creating a smooth surface that helps prevent water from standing in depressions like hoof prints, etc. “It is important not to completely scrape all the way to the soil. “Leaving a thin layer about half an inch of manure helps form an impermeable soil/manure interface that minimizes the amount of water leaching into the groundwater,” Rusche said.

Rusche reminds producers not to overlook manure which accumulates under fences and feedbunks as these areas can be significant breeding areas for flies. They can sometimes also contribute to holding runoff in the pen instead of allowing the water to continue to flow into the containment structure.