Demand for beef is up and coupled with the drought that has shut down the large cattle ranches in California and Texas, Iowa producers are in a good position to take advantage. One operation near Lone Tree in eastern Iowa’s Johnson County is trying alternative methods to raise the cattle. Matt Schnieder says they’ve expanded their cow calf operation by putting up a hoop building about the size of two and half football fields in length and 50 feet wide.
Schneider says Johnson County is one of the most populated in the state, which leaves few open spaces to hold cattle. “There’s not a lot of pasture ground, and for the number of head that we are talking about, that pasture ground if you were fortunate to find it would be in two, three, four different counties. So you’d spend a lot of your time just running back and forth checking on cattle, let alone getting anything productive done,”Schneider says.
He says one advantage of the hoop building is allowing the animals to better handle weather extremes. “When they’re cold and wet, that’s not necessarily the best situation. And with this structure, we minimize that as best we can,”Schneider says. “I also think there will be a big advantage in this kind of housing in the summertime — when we think about Iowa again, humidity, the hot summers. These cattle will stay much more comfortable than if they were just out in the wild in pastures.”
Schnieder says this facility allowed them to expand their original herd of 20 by adding 100 more for a specialty business. Iowa State University Extension Beef Specialist Patrick Wall says the setup offers an alternative to the traditional confinement or feedlot. “It is a roof over the cattle’s head 365 days a year, but it’s not your typical feedlot operation either. They are not feeding the cattle nearly the amount of feed that a feedlot diet would,” Wall says. “They are not trying to maximize gain, they are merely managing a smaller number of cows in a smaller area.”
Wall says they also don’t have a manure pit that comes with cattle confinement buildings. Wall says a pasture is best place to raise the cattle if you can get it, but he predicts producers will do what they can to keep up with demand. “You know, as long as beef demand stays high, these types of facilities will continue to gain popularity. So, if it cycles back downward and beef cattle are not near as profitable as they are right now, then you won’t see these types of facilities expand,”Schneider says.
Schnieder says he’s very happy with their decision to expand using the hoop building, and says the animals seem to be doing well. “They seem as content as any cow herd you would want. They have the freedom to move within their pens within the building and get some exercise from that standpoint. There’s feed within the bunks so they can go and eat,” Schnieder says. The Schneiders recently held an open house so other producers can see how the system works.
Pat Blank of Iowa Public Radio contributed to this story.