Vet Column 8-23-10
Fort Collins, Colo.
So what is a hoop barn? Hoop barns consist of steel arches covered with polyvinyl fabric. The arches are attached to posts or concrete sidewalls. Used more frequently for housing swine and dairy cattle, a recent research publication compared the use of this type of housing for finishing beef cattle to that of an open feedlot system with shelter. The primary advantage of such a system for housing livestock is the use of bedding for absorbing animal waste where effluent waste from livestock can be minimized and possibly better managed.
Controlling effluent from beef feedlots for both production and environmental considerations is an important management objective. Generally, beef feedlots are either one of an earthen open lot with possible windbreaks and mounds; an open lot with a shed or shelter; or a traditional confinement with slatted floors. Traditional confinement systems tend to have greater facility costs, but less waste management costs compared with open feedlots. They also tend to have poorer cattle performance because of reduced dry matter intake in the summer months.
Iowa State University investigators conducted a study in southwestern Iowa where the average annual rainfall is approximately 28 inches. The hoop barn was oriented north to south with open ends with fenceline feedbunks along the east side. The sidewalls of the hoop barn were 10 feet high with the center height being around 26 feet. The overall hoop barn space was 50 feet by 120 feet. When wind breaks were needed, large round bales were stacked three high across the north and south ends. Stocking density was slightly more than 15 square feet per steer.
Hoop barns were bedded weekly by placing large round bales of cornstalks in the end of pens away from the fenceline bunk allowing the cattle to spread the bedding. A 20 foot wide concrete alley in the pens ran the length of the hoop barn along the feed bunk with the remaining flooring being dirt. The alley was scraped weekly.
An earthen feedlot with a shelter open to the south accompanied by a fenceline bunk under roof was used as a comparison in evaluating feedlot performance and carcass characteristics in this study. Stocking density was slightly more than 48 square feet per animal. In the winter-spring months, the sheltered area was bedded with cornstalks. In the summer-fall trials, the sheltered area remained dry and was not bedded.
Steers went on trials weighing around 904 pounds and were fed for slightly more than 100 days. The average finishing weight was around 1320 pounds. Six trials were completed.
Results of this study indicate the performance of finishing cattle, both growth and carcass values, managed in a hoop-barn system was not different from the performance of cattle managed in an open-feedlot system with shelter during summer and winter. Final mud scores (a subjective evaluation of the amount of soil and manure adhering to the hair coat of the animals) were greater for the steers from the open-lot system compared with those from the hoop-barn system.
Hoop barns are a viable alternative housing management system for finishing beef cattle.