Constant change is a staple of a cattle producer’s life. Sometimes it’s instigated by the producers themselves. Sometimes it’s a requirement demanded by outside forces, including government agencies. The question of whether to choose a covered-roof or mono-slope building to house livestock may depend on location, but there’s no doubt government regulations tend to expand rather than shrink.
The Department of Natural Resources presently inspects numerous livestock operations. Indications are that the criteria and guidelines involving manure containment and run-off will become more stringent and widespread in the near future. To stay ahead of the curve, producers looking to build new or expand existing feed yards should seriously evaluate erecting a mono-slope building to house their cattle.
Rich Hines is a previous owner and long-time partner at Indiana Design Consortium. Presently he’s a consultant for the Summit Livestock Facilities team.
“One of the reasons producers are bringing cattle indoors is to advance the sustainability of their operations and animal agriculture in general,” he said.
Mono-slope structures can be used comfortably for both beef and dairy cattle. They’re generally built with the front and back open, often with canvas flaps that can be dropped down in severe weather. Feed bunks and alleyways can be designed along the front or back, leaving the interior completely open or partitioned with removable pens.
A large benefit of the buildings is realized in times of extreme weather, keeping cattle dry and comfortable no matter the harsh reality outdoors.
“If you’re going to be profitable long-term in a sustainable manner, you need to be able to control the variables of production,” Hines said. “And controlling the variable of weather is a big deal.”
Varied designs also allow for proper air flow and shade in extremely hot weather.
“All animals have a thermoneutral zone – a zone of temperature they feel really comfortable in,” Hines said. “When the animal goes outside of those temperature ranges it experiences stress.”
Although data studies are limited, many early results point to better average daily gains and better feed efficiency, he said.
“Typically producers see about a 20 percent improvement in feed efficiency,” he said. “So if you’re running at about 7 to 7-and-a-half pounds of feed per pound of gain, you’ll get to about 6. And that 20 percent of feed-cost difference translates in a 1,000-head barn to about $150,000 a year.”
Another sometimes-over-looked benefit to a mono-slope building is the quality of the manure generated. Every bit of the bedding waste and manure is contained without outside conditions such as rainfall and snowstorms washing away nutrients.
“It’s one of the other big impacts of feeding cattle indoors – to preserve the nutrient value of manure,” Hines said.
That excellent-quality manure can substantially reduce the price of fertilizers required on grain lands.
Cost of construction and supplies can be a drawback but there are government programs available to lend a hand. At this point their goal is not to stone-wall livestock producers but to bring about compliance to environmental regulations – and as such appear willing to be flexible.
For cattle producers considering a mono-slope building, it’s important to take the time to think “big picture” and do the homework. It should be roomy enough and expandable, putting in large doors as well as adding bunks and alleyways if required. Beyond the aesthetic and clean look that it adds to a livestock enterprise, a mono-slope building will help to conserve the environment. It will produce happier more-efficient livestock. It seems like a winning situation all around.