Should You Invest in Cattle Facilities for Your Operation?

Published on Wed, 11/30/2022 - 8:49am

Should You Invest in Cattle Facilities for Your Operation?

 By Jessica Graham.

 In the cattle industry we’re always trying to stay up-to-date and improve our profitability and operations. We take a portion of our profits and we reinvest it back into our herd, ranch, and farm. One of the ways some producers are reinvesting into their operation is through updating cattle facilities. In the past this once meant conventional barns or steel shelters. However, a plethora of cattlemen are taking a look at hoop buildings for their operation. Hoop buildings have a few advantages over traditional barns. They are cheaper to construct. Most of the savings comes from the tarps that cover these buildings. The fabric roofs can be replaced if you ever need to replace them. They provide some advantages to cattle too. The fabric roofs let in a lot of light compared to steel and wood buildings and the air circulates well through these hoop buildings too. Both air flow and light will be advantageous for the overall herd health.

If you’re going to try out an investment in facilities but don’t know where to start, begin with calving facilities. There are a couple benefits particularly to calving indoors. One benefit is the ease of watching pregnant heifers and cows. You have technology available to help you keep an eye on the cattle. You can utilize caving cameras as well as physical labor to carefully watch for potential problems like dystocia. Cows and heifers remain confined rather than wandering through an open pasture; you always know where they are prior to calving.  One farm, Wilkerson Farms, has been utilizing Accu-Steel buildings for calving and cow calf growth. Wilkerson Farms runs an embryo transfer operation and the buildings allow them to calf all day, every day of the year. This would not be wise to do without protection from the outdoor elements.

Calving facilities keep the weather off of newborn calves. We know when cattle have calves in cold conditions, detrimental things can happen physically to the calf. They can lose hoofs, ears or they can succumb to frigid conditions. Economically this will result in loss of potential revenue for the operation, whether it is a complete fatality or dockage from the buyers.  It’s completely up to you how you want your facility set up. You might just want to have the facilities to provide reprieve from the outdoor conditions; a shelter from the wind and rain and snow. You could go as far as heating your facilities to keep calves more comfortable when temperatures plummet.

Keeping calves indoors not only helps you prevent fatalities, but it will help you get the calf off to a healthy start. For instance, Wilkerson Farms has been utilizing facilities for calving purposes. Once the calf is born, they colostrum check the mother and make sure the calf is receiving enough colostrum. According to Clayton Wilkerson, “If there is not enough colostrum present, it doesn’t give the calf enough to get going for 48 hours”. If the colostrum levels are less than 20%, the calf will receive supplemental colostrom Clayton Wilkerson goes on to explain. If not, they supplement the calf’s diet with colostrum to get the calf started towards reaching its full growth and developmental potential. On this farm, calves are monitored and if there is difficult in caving someone is available and ready to step in to assist. This whole process is efficient as chutes are in the facilities, and since the cow is in the barn, cows can efficiently be driven into the chute. Clayton Wilkerson states “I don’t know if I would ever calf outside. When it’s -20 and blowing snow, it’s nice to have them inside”.
Advantages for Cows
Utilizing barns and cattle facilities does not have to be limited to just the calving experience. Wilkerson Farms is set up to complete embryo transfer, monitoring and checking of the pregnant cows, calving and then they monitor the cow calf pairs even after they are born. If a cow is gaining too much during gestation, her feed rations can be adjusted to keep her at a comfortable weight. You cannot easily spot and control this unless you are utilizing facilities to monitor your cattle. In contrast, if a cow’s body condition begins to decline while she is lactating, her feed ration can be increased and adjusted to keep her in top condition.

 Additionally, you might want to monitor calves after they are born to ensure their rate of gain is on track for your goals. If a calf is not gaining weight as it should, you can adjust and supplementally feed the calf to get it gaining weight. “We can manage both the cow and the calf better”, Wilkerson explains, “If they were out on pasture, we might only see them once a week”. Having the cow and calves in pens of 16 pairs allows Wilkerson to thoroughly evaluate the cow and calf every day. Once a cow has a calf, the pair is transferred to a larger pen containing 16 pairs.

When you run an intensive operation as the Wilkersons do, with 1700+ cattle carrying embryos transferred into them, you need to prevent disease. “Biosecurity and disease control is a big deal for us”, Clayton Wilkerson states. “When someone visits the farm, they have to use shoe covers, and a lot of times double shoe covers. We don’t want anything coming on to our farm”. They can control where people are going and the outside exposure to cattle.

If you are considering keeping cattle inside there are a couple obstacles you need
to consider.  You need to keep facilities clean to prevent respiratory and other infections and diseases. Cleaning is easily the most labor-intensive part of having cattle inside. Wilkerson describes the farm’s cleaning, “We bed and scrape every day. Cleaning is a big part of the job”. However, with the intensive cleaning schedule, the farm is able to maintain superb herd health and aid calves in reaching their full potential.

Before you go and start constructing your building you need to consider your objectives and why you are building facilities. Make sure you have plenty of room. I cannot count the times a producer has wished they had built their facilities bigger to accommodate future expansion. The cost of the facilities is another consideration, obviously. Steel buildings will cost more than hoop buildings with tarps on the top.

Another thing to consider is the cattle market in your plans for expansion and growth. How much does it cost you when you lose a calf? Consider not only the cost of losing the calf, but the cost of feeding the cow for another 9 – 12 months without a calf to generate profit. How many calves can you afford to lose? I guarantee your loss ratio will be a lot lower if you have a building and you put in the time to watch your heifers and cows when they are calving. Even the best rancher loses some calves now and then. When you keep pregnant cows and young calves inside, you reduce the threat of natural disasters. Predators, calving near creeks, and frigid temps all are attributors to calf mortality. In a barn you can control a few of these elements and increase your survival rates of your calves.