Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter

Spring 2001

Comparison of beef feedlot systems

by Wendy Miller, Iowa Beef Center media specialist

Beef feedlot operators may find themselves needing to update their facilities due to current and pending environmental regulations. As intimidating as this may sound, producers still have choices, points out the Iowa Beef Center. “Perhaps the best way to compare the different feedlot designs is at the bottom line,” said John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center. “Each design includes the initial investment, operating costs and animal performance, plus meets current environmental requirements. By thoroughly looking at all the numbers, producers can get a good grasp of how to spend their money.”

The Iowa Beef Center compared five systems: earthen feedlot with a windbreak, earthen feedlot with a shed, concrete lot with shed, total confinement with a concrete floor, and total confinement with a slatted floor in increments of 750, 1,500, and 5,000 head. The findings were recently published in PM 1867, Beef Feedlot Systems Manual, a compilation of materials designed to assist producers in making educated decisions.

Animal performance varied across the systems. The open lot with a windbreak generally had the poorest feed efficiency, but the feed intake was better than slatted-floor confinement. Average daily gain was higher in the open lot without shelter than the slatted confinement, but worse in the other systems.

Total confinement with slatted floors produced animals with the lowest feed intake and average daily gain, but moderate feed efficiency. The open lot with a shed, concrete lot with a shed, and total confinement with a solid floor performed comparably to one another and had the best feed efficiency and average daily gain.

Initial investment per head was similar between the 750- and 5,000-head lots and slightly higher for the 1,500-head lot. The difference in investment is driven by the cost of environmental compliance. Feedlots with more than 1,000 head are required to have a runoff detention basin. The 5,000-head feedlot is able to spread these costs over more cattle than the 1,500-head lot and the smallest lot does not incur this expense. Adding the shed to the earthen lot more than doubles the initial investment for the 750-head lot and increases it 80 to 90 percent in the larger lots. The earthen lot is approximately one-third the cost of total confinement with slatted floors. The earthen lot with shed and concrete lot with shed have comparable initial investment. The concrete lot has higher animal density and less runoff to control than the earthen lot and thus has a lower cost of environmental compliance.

Overhead and operating costs, including the facility, manure hauling, fuel, utilities, and labor range from $32.85 for the earthen lot with windbreak to $59.53 for slotted floor confinement. Costs for the 1,500- and 5,000-head earthen lots are 35 and 30 percent higher than the 750-head earthen lot because of the detention basin. Over half of the added cost is related to pumping out the basin. This study assumed commercial pumping rates, but producers who own their own equipment may be able to empty their basins at a lower cost.

The difference between the systems declines when compared on a cost-of-gain basis, which incorporates animal performance. For feedlots with fewer than 1,000-head capacity, the earthen feedlot has the lowest cost-of-gain followed by the concrete lot. The larger feedlots, which require additional environmental structures, have a slightly higher cost-of-gain and the concrete lot is the lowest cost system.

This analysis of alternative beef feedlot systems indicates that new facilities in environmental compliance can be built and operated profitably. Although it appears that feedlots with fewer than 1,000-head capacity have a cost advantage, regulations requiring feedlots with as few as 300 head to adhere to the same standards as the large feedlots have been proposed. Larger feedlots have an incentive to reduce the amount of runoff that they must hold in a detention basin. In addition to the added engineering and construction costs, the costs of emptying the basin are significant.

To learn more about beef feedlot systems, performance, and cost data, order a copy of PM 1867, Beef Feedlot Systems Manual, for $2.00 plus shipping and handling through the ISU Extension Distribution Center, (515) 294-5247.

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Iowa Manure Matters: Odor and Nutrient Management is published by Iowa State University Extension, with funding support from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service through Cooperative Agreement No. 74-6114-8-22. To subscribe or change the address of a current subscription, write to Angela Rieck-Hinz, 2104 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011-1010 or call 515-294-9590, fax 515-294-9985 or email: amrieck@iastate.edu. Please indicate you are inquiring about the Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter. The newsletter's coordinators are Angela Rieck-Hinz, extension program specialist, Department of Agronomy, Wendy Powers, environmental extension specialist, Department of Animal Science, and Robert Burns, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; the editor is Jean McGuire, the subscription manager is Rachel Klein, the production designer is Beth Kroeschell, and the web page designer is Liisa Jarvinen.

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