By Scott Roskens, Beef Technical Manager
Many feedlot operations consider pen maintenance to be a summer event when we scrape, shape and smooth the dirt portions of the pens. It is also the time we haul in fill behind aprons and pen edges where the cattle traffic along with drainage has caused low areas. What gets forgotten is that propper attention to pen maintenance through the fall to the summer period can save time and money by minimizing an entire rebuild annually.
The wet weather pattern we have experienced in the last couple of years has hit most of the cattle feeding states and magnified the differences in pen management. The lots that have continued to scrape and smooth pens year-round have better drainage, harder surface, and better cattle performance. Enough moisture can ruin even the best dirt pens, but a little effort will get many more good days for the cattle. We can also set ourselves up better if the pens do freeze up smooth instead of a rough mess that is hard on movement and hoof health all winter.
Some of the practices that make a difference:
- Get snow out of pens ASAP. The bare frozen ground will dry and warm up so the cattle can be dry and warmer much quicker. It doesn’t take long for cattle to walk snow into bedding or soil and make the rest of the winter and spring a wet mess.
- Cattle with a clean, dry haircoat are very comfortable even if the temperature is below freezing. Conversely, Wet haircoats can make cattle uncomfortable in fairly warm temperatures. Use bedding to keep cattle dry so that they have a good haircoat for when it does get down to zero.
- Use bedding sparingly. A thin layer of dry bedding is all we need to get cattle dry. Using a smaller amount of bedding but more often will give the best result and conserve the supply.
- Clean out bedding regularly. A deep wet bedding pack will soak the top layer of dry bedding extremely quickly when cattle walk and lay on it. Deep bedding packs may be necessary in some extreme cases but they provide a wet area that is inefficient to keep dry and will be a mudhole in the spring.
- Cover enough area. A bedding area of 20-25 square feet per head is necessary to keep from creating a wet area that is hard to dry out and erodes rapidly from traffic.
- Consider fencing cattle out of problem areas when conditions are wet and the area will be destroyed. Some outside facilities will confine cattle down to 50 square feet of concrete per head and have 50-100 square feet of dirt pen attached to use when the weather is right. (Frozen or dry)
- Common sense. Watch the weather and be prepared to manage the pen moisture immediately after a snow or rain event. Preserving that haircoat is important and once we lose it, production costs increase exponentially.