Fabric of success

A 50-foot addition on the south end of their fabric-covered building enables Aric Leuthold, above, and his father, Carl, to work with and load cattle from the new building on their farm near Ellsworth, Minn.

Ellsworth, Minn., farmer Aric Leuthold said his cattle seem remarkably relaxed in his new fabric-covered confinement building just north of the family farm’s tree grove on the far corner of a corn field.

The 272-foot by 46-foot structure with two pens has a capacity of 250 cattle.

The 24-year-old Leuthold, who has a 50-50 partnership with his dad, Carl, starts feeding 300-pound Holstein calves in the building and finishes them until they are taken to slaughter in Dakota City, Neb.

“I just never imagined a building where they would be so comfortable. It’s shaded, and they don’t get all worked up,” he said.

The structure was manufactured by western Iowa-based Accu-Steel Inc., which has almost 20 years of experience in engineering fabric-covered buildings. The company, with offices and its plant near Templeton and Carroll, touts its buildings as being ideal for the fed cattle industry.

Leuthold would agree.

He especially likes the natural lighting. “It’s nice and bright in there, and I can tell they are so relaxed. And they’re aren’t hot and panting because the sun isn’t on them.”

He also likes that in the winter, when he starts feeding his young calves, they can close up the building to protect them from the harsh conditions. Then, as the animals get bigger, the Leutholds can open it up to provide what he calls excellent air flow in the spring, summer and fall.

It also keeps the animals away from moisture.

Because they were told to put the structure about 200 yards away from the grove to get the air flow but didn’t want to take up too much of the crop field, the building sits in a north-south direction, whereas most go east and west to take advantage of southern sun exposure in winter. However, the setup hasn’t made too much of a difference to the Leuthold operation. There are curtains on the west side that can close up and keep the snow out.

Leuthold remembered one snowstorm that came from an easterly direction, but it left little snow in the feed bunks that line the east side of the building.

“I’ve never had to scoop out the feed bunks,” he said of the building, which he started using last Aug. 15.

There’s a 6-foot overhang above the feed bunk and also a good-sized cement pad all the way along the bunk that keeps the tractor from slipping and sliding in wet conditions.

Leuthold said the cost of the concrete work was more than that of the building itself.

The family also added a 50-foot-long working area on the south end, along with an outdoor holding pen, so they can work with and load the cattle right on site.

Leuthold puts the cattle in the holding pen when he’s scraping manure and corn stalk bedding. He said he replaces the bedding once a week in the summer and about every other day in the winter.

The father and son also have a 125 cow-calf pair operation, with which they still use a feedlot on the other side of the tree grove and a pasture that runs along Kanaranzi Creek. They raise their own feed in their corn, soybean and alfalfa fields and hire a custom grinder.

A few other features Leuthold likes about the new building are the 12-inch open ridge vent “chimney” on the top center of the fabric covering, which he said helps with letting humidity out and keeping air circulating year-round; the spaciousness for the cattle; the ability to have just one water line and electric heater power lines to the water tanks in the middle between the two pens; and the galvanized steel beams and frame that the Holsteins “won’t chew through” as they probably would with wooden ones.

Shane Schechinger, vice president of agricultural sales for Accu-Steel, said the company started producing the cattle buildings years ago with a lot of help from producers like Leuthold who provided input into what they wanted in a building.

Although the company constructs buildings for many other industries, it just seemed natural being in agriculture-heavy Iowa to venture into cattle, fertilizer, grain and hay storage buildings.

The company, which has its manufacturing facilities on founder Jason Owen’s fifth-generation family farm outside Templeton, started by making fabric-covered salt storage buildings for state departments of transportation.

However, Schechinger said one of the main reasons it started with the cattle buildings was because of increasing runoff issues in feedlots, with several getting shut down by government environmental agencies.

“We eliminated that runoff problem,” he said.

As far as cattle comfort, he said the structure won’t beat a 70-degree dry day with a slight wind on an open feedlot. However, he agreed with Leuthold that the fabric-covered building takes the variability of this region’s weather – such as a 100-degree summer day or a snowstorm with three feet of the white stuff – out of the equation.

The benefit of keeping cattle out of such harsh weather conditions is paying for the building because the cattle are comfortable and feeding well all year round with the ventilation and cover, Schechinger said.

The Keder cover system’s design is a main selling point for the structures, Schechinger said. Unlike some other similar buildings where the cover is attached only on the ends, the Accu-Steel structure has an aluminum track system that connects to each rafter and prevents fabric friction. That distributes the load over the entire building, reducing stress. The cover system also eliminates wear points and keeps the fabric tight to prevent “all sorts of issues” with high wind and heavy snow that puffs out some covers.

The specially engineered system also eliminates the need for a tension-tightening device that some use to secure the cover, Schechinger said.

“Our cover system is the only one in the industry that doesn’t use straps or laces for tightening,” he said. “Maintenance is so simple it can be done with an electric impact wrench.”

Other advantages of the system, he said, are that it’s engineered to meet local building codes and pre-approved for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP program, offers a 20-year warranty, has hot dipped galvanized steel in the entire system from the bolts to the cabling, and because of its flexibility can be built even on existing and uneven feedlots – sometimes saving the expense of the concrete work.

About four years ago, the company started a dealer network because it wanted workers closer to their buildings to provide help quickly with any service issues.

Rock Rapids, Iowa,-based Groeneweg Construction Inc. sold and installed the Leutholds’ building as well as other Accu-Steel buildings in northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota.

It’s been a steady climb in business since Accu-Steel’s start almost 20 years ago in the “middle of nowhere in a corn field” in western Iowa, Schechinger said.

The company’s buildings now are sold from Hawaii to Africa, with international business being exceptionally good the past few years, he said.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Leuthold said he is enjoying his building thoroughly.

After buying the smaller 300-pound calves at a lower price, he said he thinks the fabric-covered structure can help them get a nicer start than they would outdoors or in other facilities they studied. As the cattle approach about 1,000 pounds currently, he said they enjoy a comfortable, roomy existence. And they seem happy.

“Don’t you think?” he asked rhetorically.

“I would recommend the building. And I would put up another one,” he said.