Opportunities for Feedlot Pen Surface Improvements
Poor pen conditions due to early snowfall and rainy weather last fall plagued cattle feeders in the much of North Dakota. Muddy conditions have been shown to decrease intake, gain and feed efficiency resulting in increased cost of gain. While the use of bedding is a well-accepted way to mitigate these affects, the need to clean pens and rebuild and pack pen surfaces to re-establish proper drainage is necessary for optimizing long-term efficiency.
The majority of feedlot pens are soil based with mounds created to provide dry areas for bedding. However, in recent years, more feedlot operations in the Northern Plains have been looking at alternative pen surface materials to decrease the annual expenses associated with hauling fill (clay or gravel) back into pens to maintain grade and allow for proper drainage. Hard surfaces including fly ash, concrete, and a newer product known as roller compacted concrete, which is being used in a number of feedlots in western Canada, allow for longer lasting pen surface conditions. These hard surfaces also come with an increased cost.
Beyond advantages to pen surface maintenance and depending on wastewater holding capacity and permitting regulations in your given state, utilization of solid surfaces, including concrete, may allow for greater stocking density of feedlot pens. As an example, by moving from an unpaved open lot (2-4% slope) to a paved surface with the same slope, stocking rate increases dramatically as space requirements decrease from 600ft2 to 55ft2 for feedlot cattle (Table 1). Producers should also consider other management practices, as well as bunk space, as part of their decision process.
Table 1. Pen and bunk space recommendations for beef cattle.
As I conclude this Center Points, I would like to share some improvements we are making at the NDSU CREC livestock unit. Like many operations, we were struggling with the recurring costs associated with feedlot pen maintenance. Fly ash was placed in our pens in the late 90’s, but this material has deteriorated over time. We have moved forward with the process of concreting a portion of our feedlot pens. This will provide advantages in the long-term growth of our research program. For those of you wishing to see the new renovations please call 701-652-2951 or stop at the main office. We’ll get you checked in and have someone show you around. I wish you a productive summer.
Concrete curing in a feedlot pen at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center.
Bryan Neville, Ph.D.