The availability of pasture is shrinking and that has led many cow-calf producers across the Midwest to consider calving under roof as a viable alternative. That’s why experts at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ recent Midwest Cow-Calf Symposium were invited to address the key management decisions of raising cows and calves in a confined setting.
Nearly 300 beginning and experienced farmers from eight states attended the two-day symposium in Omaha, Neb., to learn about cow-calf health, nutrition and other best management practices. Sara Barber of the Veterinary Medical Center says raising cows and calves under roof presents a unique opportunity to manage pairs individually. However, additional management practices are required to maintain animal health.
“Health is a balance in these barns,” Barber explains. “We have to control the environment and have to do the best we can with the immunity of the calves.”
Proper bedding management
Controlling the under-roof environment starts with proper bedding management. Barber says pens should always be kept dry, and the bedding can easily be evaluated with what she calls the “dry knee test.” Fall on your knees and if your knees get wet when you get up, “you know you need more bedding,” she adds.
In terms of calf immunity, Barber stresses the importance of newborn calves taking advantage of their mother’s colostrum, a calf’s first and only available source of antibodies. Barber also recommends dipping calf navels with iodine to prevent infections, using designated supplies for sick calves and healthy calves, and avoiding nose-to-nose contact with cattle brought to a farm from a different source.
Cow-calf producers like Chad and Amy Wilkerson of Linden in west-central Iowa, agree prevention is key when using the “calving under roof” approach. The Wilkerson’s fielded questions at the symposium as two of 11 producer-panelists. They raise 160 cow-calf pairs in a hoop barn they filled for the first time in January 2016.
“It’s important to have a good nutritionist and a good vet,” says Chad Wilkerson. “You’ve got to have those two people in your back pocket that you know are going to be there and understand what you’re up against.”
Most bang for the bunk
Another consideration for producers raising cow-calf pairs under roof includes adopting a nutrition program. Kelly Jones, co-manager of Cactus Feeders’ cow-calf division, says feed is a major cost in this production system and requires rations that can be modified to coincide with reproductive stage of the herd.
“Limit-feeding allows us to individually cover the nutritional needs of dry cows, lactating cows or replacement heifers,” Jones explains. “But you can also tear down the condition of the herd pretty quick if you aren’t mindful of factors such as bunk space.”
Jones suggests an error on too much bunk space is far better than an error on too little, and that creep-feeding areas featuring lowered bunks should be installed before calving begins. Other barn modifications may include incorporating maternity areas, working facilities and raising dirt levels around water tanks for calves.
Experts and cow-calf producers alike conclude that while there are many advantages to calving under roof, this system requires intensive management that may not be the right fit for every livestock farm. CSIF works beside Iowa farm families as they make important management decisions about growing the farm using new livestock technology such as calving under roof.
The Midwest Cow-Calf Symposium was co-sponsored by the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Nebraska Cattlemen. For more information from the event and virtual tours featuring Accu-Steel, Hoop Beef System and Central Confinement Service hoop barns, visit supportfarmers.com/cowcalfsymposium.
Source: Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.