Mild late-autumn weather provides the perfect opportunity for preparing feedlots for winter.
Shawn Shouse, Extension ag engineer with Iowa State University, says step one is making sure the lot, bunks and water system are in good physical condition.
“With the bunks, you want to repair any misalignment and minimize the chances of any rodents living under the bunks,” he says. “You want to make sure the apron is clear and is smoothed out. Frozen manure can make the footing dangerous for cattle.”
Shouse says the biggest challenge during winter is keeping snow out of the bunks. He says there are several options, including a scoop shovel, a blower or some type of brush cleaning system.
“Using that shovel is pretty hard work, so a lot of feedlots use a blower that’s powered by a PTO,” he says. “Others may use a brush-style cleaner that works more like a snowblower. Regardless of what you use, extra moisture in the bunk is going to affect feed intake, so you need to remove the snow.”
Shouse says when removing snow, make sure it is not in a place in the feedlot where it forms a pool as it melts.
Aprons should also be sloped to make sure manure is moving away from the feed bunks.
Bunks need to be managed to avoid spilling feed, says Erin Laborie, Extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska.
She says a plan needs to be in place for major snow events.
“Make sure the plan not only includes how to feed the cattle, but how to remove the snow and where to put it when it’s removed,” Laborie says. “Cattle are on a feeding schedule, so if you can remove the snow ahead of feeding, that’s going to be very beneficial.”
With electric water systems, she says to check thermostats to make sure tanks are heating properly.
Shouse says either electricity or gas can be used to heat the tanks. If using an LP tank, the set-up needs to eliminate the chance cattle may damage it.
He says some may use a continuous water flow system, as the movement of fresh water provides some heat and helps prevent freezing.
“You need to be able to drain the overflow water away from the lot,” Shouse says. “If your water supply isn’t limited, this system can work pretty well. With all water options, keep a close eye on them to make sure they aren’t freezing up and that the cattle are getting plenty to drink.”