Consider The Option of Indoor Housing for your Cattle

Published on Fri, 09/28/2018 - 10:52am

 Consider The Option of Indoor Housing for your Cattle

 By Bruce Derksen for American Cattlemen

 Years ago, when you drove down the country roads in your area, you would likely see a hip roofed barn on each property housing the standard handful of dairy cows, dozen or more hogs and the obligatory chicken coop.  If there was a cow calf herd or group of grass cattle, they would be outdoors in a small corral.

Over time, this quiet picture of the countryside changed to include a few mono-slope, gable or hoop buildings housing mostly feeder cattle, gradually evolving to include finishing animals and at present, even cow calf operations up to twelve months of the year.
Beyond the predictable mantra that everything changes, there are many obvious and not so obvious reasons this evolution is taking place.  Thinking simplistically, housing livestock indoors keeps them safe from storms, sun, rain, excessively hot or cold temperatures and other inclement weather conditions.  These buildings can shield young or weak animals from predators and help diversify operations that have limited access to pasture land.  Rather than attempting to purchase extra acres to expand their cattle herds that would only support them for a portion of the year, many producers are considering the option of erecting a building to house them year round.
In a feedlot or finishing operation, a comfortable animal will be a more efficient and productive animal.  Dry cattle will stay warmer than wet animals because moisture diminishes the insulating properties of hair coats and when animals are cold and stressed, weight production will drop.  Many producers using mono-slope or hoop barns claim a higher feed efficiency and increased daily gains and although research is thin in this area, many also assert a higher carcass quality and yield.  In a cow calf situation, having a roof can be an excellent tool to realize the highest number of live, weaned and healthy productive calves.  A controlled environment makes it easier to spot and treat any illness or disease cases and for cows, the dry comfortable environment helps them maintain their best body conditioning allowing timely re-breeding.

The use of a building also permits a more intensive hands on management system to be put in place.  Calving and weaning seasons can be staged at different times of the year to work together with other possible constraints such as grain farming, marketing situations and available bull usage.  
A closed environment like a mono-slope or hoop building can also make better use of field waste products such as corn plants and stalks.  Rather than breaking down slowly over the course of years in the fields, they can be gathered and used under roof as bedding where they will decompose within weeks and be available as fertilizer. The value of this contained manure is higher than that gathered from open lot pens as there will not be excessive leaching of nutrients from wet weather conditions.  This top quality manure can greatly offset the amount of fertilizer required on forage and grain lands.
Although labor practices can be more efficient, productive and precise when housing livestock indoors, there will also be a higher cost involved in pen management with expanded bedding and manure removal commitments.
Potential negatives of erecting a building for indoor care of livestock are overall price of the materials and construction, along with the time and money involved with a more intense management system.  Although there are government grants available for portions of these endeavors, it can still be a large financial undertaking.  Ease of precise feeding can hide mediocre management skills while the creation of a stable productive cow calf herd under a roof can be the opposite, requiring closer attention to detail with the intensive operations.
Overall, there are many things to consider when it comes to determining whether to house livestock indoors for parts or all of the year.  Each operation will need to decide what is possible and will work best for their farming unit when it comes to cost, space, time and resources.  With an eye to the future and more comfortable, productive happier cattle, the livestock industry will continue to display a caring and committed attitude to animal well- being by improving and delivering potential advancements such as the option of indoor cattle housing.