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Feedlot Innovation Center could revolutionize UNL research

UNL Feedlot Innovation Center Rendering 2

When complete, the Feedlot Innovation Center near Mead, Neb., will allow research for feedlot cattle in different settings, including open lots, confinement barns and an individual feeding center.

Like most extraordinary ideas, the Feedlot Innovation Center at Eastern Nebraska Research Extension and Education Center (ENREEC) near Mead, Nebraska, began with a vision. For Galen Erickson, PhD, that vision spurred from a desire to modernize the current feedlot research facilities.

Erickson has acute insight into the needs of the feedlot research facility because he supervises employees, facilitates faculty research and procures funds for research projects at the current feedlot. As University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) feedyard extension specialist, he also teaches undergraduate and graduate classes about feedlot management and nutrition.

Erickson is also involved with the Timmerman Feedlot Internship program, an intense feedlot management program exclusive to UNL. Begun in 1988, the program is now directed by Dr. Jim MacDonald. The Feedlot Innovation Center will enhance hands-on educational opportunities such as this for students at UNL.

“We have been planning and creating a vision for a number of years,” Erickson said. “When we started this planning process, we thought there’s a few things we can’t do well in our current system that are really large needs.”

As more farms expand to commercial-scale operations, UNL is seeking to follow suit and provide accurate research that is more applicable to these larger operations.

“Some of these bigger challenges require more disciplines and more cattle to study,” said Erickson.

Of utmost importance are improving cattle comfort and animal welfare, which is the focus of Dr. Ruth Woiwode.

“The Feedlot Innovation Center offers an unparalleled platform for investigating the impact of facility design on cattle behavior and performance,” Woiwode said. “As consumers place increasing emphasis on animal welfare and environmental impact, our ability to test the impact of housing and handling facilities on welfare and environmental outcomes is critical to social license and ultimately sustainability of beef cattle production in Nebraska and beyond.”

The current feedlot at ENREEC comprises of 136 pens, each holding 10 to 20 head of cattle. Initially built in 1962, the facilities expanded in the 90s and again in 2005.

Plans for the new Feedlot Innovation Center feature 36 pens intended to house 60 head per pen. Half of the pens will be traditional open lots but have “unique, cutting edge and futuristic” designs, Erickson said.

The remaining 18 pens will be contained in confinement barns. While more expensive to construct, the barns will allow for a controlled environment and additional manure management research.

Feedlot innovation center 2.jpg

The work of Dr. Terry Klopfenstein throughout his 50-plus years at UNL greatly impacted the cattle industry. The Klopfenstein Feeding Technology Center is named in his honor.

An individual feeding facility with capacity for 240 head of cattle is another modern addition. The building will be named the Klopfenstein Feeding Technology Center in honor of the late Dr. Terry Klopfenstein. Klopfenstein was instrumental in shaping the beef industry over his 50-plus year career at UNL. He passed away in April 2021.

The Feedlot Innovation Center is more than the vision of Erickson and his colleagues; the new feedlot facilities are part of the UNL strategic plan. Referred to as N2025, the plan incorporates experiential learning for all undergraduate students as part of their coursework.

“We envision having hands-on experiences for students to have more animal contact, as well as production experience and management experience to handle these complex challenges and problems that feed yards face every day,” Erickson said.

The upgrades to the feedlot will expose students to the latest technology, including both existing and developing industry tools. New faculty member Dr. Yijie Xiong plans to research the use of precision livestock management through biosensors to evaluate feeding technologies, animal health and manure management. Erickson said they have proposed “some wild ideas” such as robots to clean pens, which will come to fruition with new research dollars.

A construction permit has been obtained for the Feedlot Innovation Center. UNL requires a selection process for industry partners and has designated Settje Agri-Services and Engineering Inc. of Raymond, Nebraska. Project completion is anticipated for mid-2023.

The current feedlot layout will not be affected by the new facility.

“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been blessed with an entire facility of 10,000 acres there (at ENREEC),” Erickson said. “There’s plenty of space to expand, and we did a lot of work on the optimum site and site development.”

Additional funding for the project is needed. In all, the estimated cost is between $6.5 and $7.5 million.

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) contributed $2 million toward the Feedlot Innovation Center. John and Beth Klosterman of David City, Nebraska, gifted $500,000. Another $300,000 was donated by Farm Credit Services of America.

The Nebraska University Foundation is leading a $3 million private fundraising initiative, with JBS USA contributing $700,000.

To donate or learn more about the Feedlot Innovation Center, contact Marcia White at the Nebraska University Foundation at nufoundation.org or Galen Erickson at gerickson4@unl.edu or 402 472-6402.

Reporter Kristen Sindelar has loved agriculture her entire life, coming from a diversified farm with three generations working side-by-side in northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at Kristen.Sindelar@midwestmessenger.com.

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Agriculture Reporter

Reporter Kristen Sindelar has loved agriculture her entire life, coming from a diversified farm with three generations working side-by-side in northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at Kristen.Sindelar@midwestmessenger.com.

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