A recent survey shows hoop barns for beef cattle production are becoming more common in Iowa, offering benefits for the environment. The survey was conducted by Mark Honeyman, interim director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and professor in ISU's department of animal science, and Jay Harmon, professor in ISU's department of agricultural and biosystems engineering.
Honeyman and Harmon are both members of the "Hoop Group," a team of ISU researchers that originally focused on the benefits of feeding or housing pigs in hoop barns. A survey conducted in 2001 showed that Iowa farmers had rapidly adopted the new method, using hoop barns to raise more than a million pigs annually.
In 2004 the Hoop Group turned its attention to cattle, building a pilot hoop barn with a grant from the Leopold Center. The new survey, completed in December 2010, found that Iowa has about 680 hoop barns for beef cattle. The majority (83%) are used for feeding beef cattle in bedded confinement, following the model developed by the Hoop Group. The researchers estimate that hoop barns account for about 15% of the beef cattle fed in Iowa annually.
Producers shifting to hoop barns because of environmental concerns
Hoop barns offer similar cattle performance to conventional feedlots with shelters. However, hoop barns minimize runoff because cattle are kept under a curved roof that deflects rain. Livestock producers may be shifting to hoop barns to help meet regulations or mitigate water quality concerns.
"Interestingly, based on ISU research, feeding beef cattle in hoop barns does not result in improved beef cattle performance compared with lots with open shelter," notes Honeyman. "However, the feedlot runoff is greatly minimized because the cattle are kept under roof at all times. Thus, the barns are being built for reasons other than economic reasons."
The largest number of hoop barns for beef cattle in Iowa are located in the traditional beef cattle feeding area of northwest Iowa.
Additional reasons why hoop barns have grown in popularity
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service through its EQIP cost-share funding program for farmers, has supported the concept. So have several companies that make hoop barns and related equipment, and feed companies.
The survey also asked about the number of hoop barns used for other beef cattle-related uses. There were approximately 115 hoop barns used for other uses such as calving, bull housing, open shelter, or calf feeding. The survey also asked for the number of other bedded confined beef cattle feeding facilities, for example, mono-slopes. It was estimated that there were about 470 such facilities in Iowa with an average capacity of 600 head for a total one-time capacity of 282,000 head.
The hoop barn built at the ISU Armstrong Research Farm at Lewis in southwest Iowa has had a role in the rapid adoption of bedded barns for beef cattle feeding in Iowa. In the six years since the barn was built, more than 5,000 individuals from eight states and five foreign countries have visited or been briefed on the beef cattle hoop barn project.
In addition, there have been hundreds of emails and phone calls concerning the project, says Honeyman. Visitors to the hoop barn at the ISU research farm have been beef producers, agribusiness people, university researchers, extension staff, policy makers, commodity group leaders and regulators. Additionally, there have been numerous radio interviews and articles in the farm press.
For more information: The survey results are available at http://www.ag.iastate.edu/farms/10reports/McNay/IowaHoopStructures.pdf. You can also download a fact sheet developed by the Iowa Beef Center at http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/Docs_feedlot/hoopbarnfactsheet.pdf