CSIF Event Highlights Calving Barns as Alternative to Pasture

09-06-2016 in Cattle

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – September 6, 2016  – Limited access to pasture ground has prompted many Iowa livestock farmers to transition their cattle under roof. For the Wilkerson and Clark families, this type of production system was a feasible option to help diversify their farms and welcome home the next generation.

In 2015, brothers Mike and Curt Clark built a 160-head calving barn to grow their cow herd. The Clark’s neighbors, Chad and Amy Wilkerson, followed suit and built their 160-head calving barn to raise recipient cows. Both families had called on other cattlemen for advice and attended a previous calving barn open house hosted by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF).

“We studied this for about four years, all of us did, we didn’t just jump right in,” Chad said.

Recognizing a renewed interest in placing cows under roof, CSIF hosted a “Calving Under Roof Field Day” at the Wilkerson and Clark farms on August 25. The event attracted over 200 attendees who traveled from neighboring states and across Iowa’s 99 counties to tour the calving barns and learn about the benefits of calving under roof.

Performance and Profitability

Economically, calving barns make sense. According to industry experts like Moe Russell, Russell Consulting Group, there are several potential areas for increased performance and cost savings. One of these areas includes shifting the calving season to capitalize on higher seasonal prices.

“It’s a huge opportunity to provide your product to the market at a time when nobody else is that’s doing a traditional cow/calf system on pasture,” Russell said.

The Wilkerson’s added that an earlier season also provides better conditions for calving.

“We did a lot of work calving in February and the beginning of March, and toward the end of March and April it got wetter,” Amy said. “It was cold, but the barn is still dryer in January and February than in March and April.”

Another advantage of raising cows under roof includes increased cow longevity. After just two calving seasons, the Clarks have already started to notice their cows performing better in their hoop barn.

“The older cows coming off the pasture showed their age, but now they look better,” Curt said. “I think it takes the stress off of them which helps them gain weight and get in better condition.”

Herd health experts like Shawn Nicholson, Stuart Vet Clinic, credit this improvement in cattle health to the controlled environment the barns provide. The design of each barn exposes the cattle to partial sunlight, while also protecting the cows and calves from inclement weather conditions, which can decrease stress.

“I like to see cows on pasture, but times have changed and now more options are available that are beneficial to the herd,” Nicholson said. “If you want to be in beef cows in the future, it is a viable alternative if you manage it right.”

CSIF is a non-profit organization that assists livestock farmers who want help interpreting rules and regulations, guidance on good site locations for barns, counsel on enhancing neighbor relations and tips on how to protect the environment at no cost. For more information, call 1-800-932-2436 or visit www.supportfarmers.com.

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock responsibly and successfully. It’s a joint partnership involving the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Egg Council, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.

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