Farmers are struggling through one of the more difficult summers in Iowa in decades. In addition to the drought that’s wilting crops, the extreme heat is stressing animals. Last summer, heat stress killed up to 4,000 cattle across Iowa. Many cattle producers are better equipped than others to keep their livestock cool.
Tanner Rowe, who farms near Dallas Center, has been keeping a close eye on his cattle – especially the ones in his last open feed lot, which is equipped only with a sprinkler. “Right now, it’s 98 degrees with very little wind. On a day like this their body temperature can be 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature and that’s pretty tough on a 1,300 pound animal,” Rowe said.
Most of Rowe’s herd is in the shade, under two large hoop barns that he had built a couple years ago. Hoop barns, which consist of a fabric roof stretched over metal arches, are gaining acceptance across the Midwest. Mark Honeyman, at Iowa State University, says nearly 700 hoop barns were used for cattle in Iowa last year.
“I see hoop barns all over Iowa. We are, in effect, feeding cattle under a big tent and by feeding cattle in a hoop barn or other covered ways, the potential for runoff into Iowa’s streams, ponds and lakes is greatly reduced,” Honeyman said. The environmental benefits are accompanied by improved beef quality and an more money in a producer’s pocket, according to Bob Bryant.
He and his son, Brent, keep 2,000 head under six hoop barns on their research farm near Washta in northwest Iowa.
“The cattle have less stress when they are in the hoop barns,” Bryant said. “Because of that, we get a little higher yield on the cattle when they’re harvested and we get probably a 10-percent better grade on the meat because of the lack of stress on the cattle.”
The Bryants have been selling hoop barns for eight years through their company Hoop Beef System. Brent Bryant said they’ve already sold more barns this year that they did all of last year. The typical hoop barn for feeding cattle costs around $200,000.