Dairy-Beef Calf Growers Save Half on Winter Fuel Costs

Daniel J. Meyer, Ag Engineer Field Specialist, Northeast

Problem Statement:
The beef industry does not raise enough steers for the consumer so farmers have gone to using dairy steers too.  Beef calves are raised in the warmer months on grass pastures but the dairy farmers calve their cows year-around.  The dairy-beef growers handle typically 150 calves in a group so outdoor hutches are hard on the grower and calves in winter months.  The preferred method is to place the calves in heated mechanically ventilated buildings.  The fuel bills were as high as $10 per calf per month for December 2005 which really eats away at the winter profits.
Programmatic Response:
Extension has worked on two fronts trying to help dairy-beef calf growers reduce their fuel costs.  The first method is helping them consider in their planning a new building or remodeling to consider first corn burners or second pulling winter air through large drainage tubes of 8 to 10 inch diameter to preheat winter air.  This concept is from a MWPS bulletin dated 1984 which is now pertinent because of the much higher fuel costs.  Extension had the opportunity to design and gather winter field research data with a Iowa Pork Center grant on a 160 head dairy-beef calf barn employing the drainage tubes preheating system. 
The current corn prices show heat can be produced for 40 percent the cost of LP gas that was bought on winter contract.  Extension is working with several growers to utilize this method of reducing their future fuel costs.  A future open house date is being planned when construction is finished at two of them. 
The second method of using large drainage tubes to preheat the winter air has been a success since the field research farmer with the 160 head of dairy-beef calves figures he saved 50 percent on his winter fuel costs.  We can back this up with temperature data collected.  Although January temperatures were warmer than normal December was cold and he saved $800 just in that month.  The temperatures dipped to -16F but the earth tube temperatures only varied from 42 to 49F.  With approximately 50,000 Iowa dairy steer calves grown over the winter six months that can be a substantial savings in fuel bills if they are raised in the heated mechanically ventilated barns.  They also help produce a much friendlier work-environment than outside hutches. 

April 6, 2006
107 - Iowa Beef Center

Page last updated: July 8, 2006
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