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Hoop buildings good option for northern feeders

By Jennifer Bremer

HOOP BUILDINGS--Mark Sandbulte has built four hoop buildings on his farm to house cattle he is feeding out. They stay in the buildings the entire time they are fed and are not in open feedlots at all. Sandbulte said the cattle are more comfortable in these conditions especially during the winter months in northwest Iowa. (Journal photo by Jennifer Bremer.)

Perhaps not in Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas, but hoop buildings are a good option for cattle feeders in northern states such as Iowa, Minnesota, or South Dakota with extreme winter weather.

"These hoop buildings originated in Canada. It was about the only way producers could raise feed lot cattle up there since they have such harsh winters," said northwest Iowa cattle feeder Mark Sandbulte.

Sandbulte and his wife, Sara, have fed cattle in hoop buildings on their O'Brien County farm near Sanborn, Iowa, for about two years. Prior to that, they fed in open feedlots.

Reasoning for hoops

He said the biggest bonus to the buildings is getting the cattle out of the winter weather. "We are getting better gains and the cattle are cleaner the entire time they are here," he explained. "It's just a better environment for the cattle."

Iowa State University Extension beef specialist Dan Loy said managing wintertime stresses can pay dividends with improved performance in the feedlot. "Cattle respond to cold stress by expending more calories to maintain body temperatures," he said.

Internal and external insulation helps cattle fight temperature extremes. Reduction of wind exposure, appropriate shelter, and good bedding all help cattle to become more comfortable, leading to better gains.

Sandbulte said those are all reasons why hoop buildings have been a good option and will help improve efficiency and gains in feedlot cattle.

"The hoop buildings provide for good shelter in the winter and have good circulation in the summer," he said. "They are a good fit for us where we are located."

Cattle experience

Sandbulte grew up on a dairy farm in a nearby community, which he said gave him good experience with cattle management. "I started milking cows at age 8 and by age 12 my grandpa had taught me how to artificially inseminate a cow," he said. "I traveled around with my dad for a long time, helping breed cows; it was a great experience."

After high school, he fed cattle at various feedlots and in 2007 he decided to purchase the farm where he now lives. Since there were no facilities for cattle feeding on the farm, he then had to make some decisions.

"I went to look at some hoop buildings to see if that was what I wanted to do," he explained. "Knowing that I wanted people to continue to bring cattle to me to feed, I knew that I had to be able to treat them really well--not just average."

The first two 240 feet by 40 feet buildings were completed in 2007 and two 400 feet by 40 feet buildings were completed in July 2008.

"We already had everything we needed to feed cattle; we just needed to get bigger so we added the other two buildings," Sandbulte said. "Now we are happy with the size of operation we have and don't plan on any more expansions right now."

The second pair of buildings was built with a wider alley for ease of cleaning but, otherwise, they are the same as the first.

Cattle comfort

The biggest challenge, as Sandbulte sees it, for hoop buildings is the constant cleaning in order to keep cattle on clean bedding. "I'm scraping the alleys two to three times per week and rebedding cattle with cornstalks," he said.

The farm uses about 1,500 cornstalk bales each year. Waste from cleaning is spread on local farm ground.

Sandbulte likes to use cornstalks for bedding because the cattle seem to be more comfortable on them, as opposed to other options.

"There are many nights you can come out here, even when it's really cold, and the cattle are all content and spread out, lying down," he explained. "You don't see that in an open feedyard in northwest Iowa in the winter months, where they are generally huddled up trying to stay warm."

Loy said the insulation bedding provides the cattle help to keep their body temperature up, thus leading to better conditions all around for the animals.

At night, in the hoop buildings, Sandbulte said about 90 percent of the cattle will be lying down because they have a dry, comfortable place to lie.

Loy also said providing good protection from the wind can make cattle more comfortable as well--which is accomplished with the hoop buildings. The buildings are enclosed on three sides, with a fence line bunk on the south side.

The cattle

Sandbulte is a custom cattle feeder and the cattle in his buildings are supplied through a local supplier. Dean Freed with Horizon Beef fills his buildings with cattle from local cattlemen as well as from across the United States.

Cattle are 300 to 700 pounds when they are delivered to his farm. There are 16 pens total in his four hoop buildings and he has the capacity to feed 1,280 cattle.

In order to meet the needs of several different markets, Sandbulte feeds non-hormone treated cattle, age and source verified cattle and all natural cattle. Each group must be kept within their pens to be managed correctly.

The all natural cattle take the most management since they can receive no antibiotics if they are sick. "I've learned how to use all natural products to cure those cattle. It's definitely a challenge at times, but that's what makes it interesting," he said.

Cattle are fed pretty much the same ration with a few exceptions. A total mixed ration including wet distillers grains, alfalfa hay, wheat straw, protein and corn, as well as a few other ingredients, are fed to the cattle.

Besides buying feedstuffs, Sandbulte also buys all the vet supplies and medicines that are given to the cattle. He tries to keep vet costs at a minimum by treating cattle himself and most of the other labor he does by himself, as well.

The benefits of feeding cattle in hoop buildings have made Sandbulte's operation become successful quickly. He said it's important to continually stay on top of what needs done in the buildings.

"You can't put things off, especially the cleaning and bedding, or you will have problems," he said. "It takes a lot of labor to make it work properly, but it's that way with any operation and if the cattle are more content in this situation then that makes for a better environment for them and me."

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120 or by e-mail at jbremer@hpj.com

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