By Kindra Gordon

For the past thirty years, Beth Doran, an Iowa State University Extension beef program specialist has worked with producers to plan and procure hoop barn and monoslope facilities. She shares that producers cite several reasons for investing in a confinement barn. These include controlling manure runoff – and protecting water resources; improving animal comfort, improving animal performance, reducing animal sickness; and capturing more value from manure.

As well, these large barns can be helpful in calving to combat weather extremes, or they can allow a producer to grow their herd size at times when access to more land may not be feasible.

Doran says all of those are valid, and for certain classes of cattle, confinement barns can especially be beneficial. As examples she says, “Light weight calves are more fragile, they don’t have the body condition to deal with cold and wind….Dairy steers are also more fragile. They don’t have the thick hide, hair coat or body condition of beef cattle.” In hot settings, market ready animals and black-hided cattle can benefit from the protection of a confinement barn.

Additionally, some research has indicated a performance boost in confinement with gains and feed efficiency being increased about 3.5%. Doran confirms that data, but also cautions that boost may only be during a few months of the year. Similarly, she notes that confinement facilities may offer more value from manure, but it varies. However, with composting becoming more popular, there may be some future economic opportunities from confinement barn manure that is stored.


to consider

Doran shares that the number one comment from producers once they have a hoop barn or monoslope is this: “They tell me they didn’t realize the increased frequency for cleaning pens and increased amount of bedding.”

Doran reports most producers clean pens two to three times per week, depending on weather and utilize 5 to 7 lbs. of bedding per head per day. She explains, “The range varies. The more animals in a pen the wetter it will be, so those pens need to be cleaned and bedded more often.”

Also surprising, July and August can be the hardest months to keep pens dry due to humidity.

Doran shares that no one specific system works best for cleaning and re-bedding pens. She notes that many producers will use a bale shredder, while some let cattle unroll bales themselves. Regarding type of bedding, she reports corn stalks and oat or wheat straw tend to work best and are most absorbent. Soybean stover is reported to be less absorbent. Doran notes that the finer ground bedding is, the more absorbent it will be. 

She has observed some incidence of hair loss on the rounds of animals on deep bedding. 

To that end, whether you have cattle in a confinement barn or not, Doran advises producers to adopt a system of monitoring the mud and manure on animals using a 1 to 5 scoring system (with 1 being clean and 5 being muddiest.)

Why worry about this? She explains, “An animal’s hair coat is their insulation. If you get it wet and full of mud and manure, you begin to affect the animal’s heat or cold stress, as well as their average daily gain and feed efficiency.”

Doran continues, “A muddy haircoat can decrease dressing percent, which starts to affect your profit.” She gives the example that a 1% decrease in dressing person on a 1,400 lb. steer equals 14 lbs. When multiplied by a market price of $121.57/cwt, that equates to  a $17 deduction in price.

Moreover, a dirty hide can cost an extra $30 to get cleaned to be used for furniture or other purposes. 

But most importantly, Doran notes that when an animal has increased mud and manure on their hair coat, they have increased potential for E.coli – which costs the industry in both investment value and consumer confidence. “Every time you have a beef recall, you impact consumer confidence. We want to avoid that and clean animals help,” she concludes.


the community

Lastly, Doran acknowledges that communities and neighbors may be hesitant to have a hoop barn or monoslope barn be built in their community. How can their concerns be mitigated?

She advises sharing science and research based information with zoning boards and citizens. She encourages being open to listening to their concerns and providing information to them.

Secondly, she encourages producers to be a good neighbor – by managing barns to minimize odors. Clean them regularly, when spreading manure be conscious of the wind direction, and when the community needs assistance (with storm clean-up, snow removal, park renovations, etc.) have your farm crew be part of helping or providing equipment.