Beef Cattle Housing and Feedlot Facilities
This publication discusses components and alternatives to be considered when establishing a beef cattle facility. Generally, beef enterprises are either cow/calf, feeder, or a combination of both. Cow/calf enterprises usually have less investment in facilities than do feeder operations. Feeder cattle facilities require more confinement pens, more automation of feeding systems and less need for roofed shelters. Each type of facility must be designed accordingly.
Various plans are available from the Canada Plan Service (CPS). To view or download follow the link to: Farm Structures and Handling Systems.
A permit may be required for new, renovated or expanded livestock facilities. Please contact the Agricultural Operations Unit, Sakatchewan Agriculture (306) 787-4680 for more information.
Development of housing and feedlot facilities requires integration of space, shelter, feed, water, waste management and handling facilities with the type of beef operation being considered. These requirements must be adapted to natural features of the site and organized for efficient operation.
Cow-calf herds can graze on open pasture during summer but need some protection in winter. Cattle being fed for market are usually penned year round.
Poor cattle performance can be attributed more to muddy conditions, harsh wind and wet resting areas than to low air temperature. All animal types and sizes must have adequate wind protection. Natural bush offers good protection. Properly designed windbreak fences and open front sheds supply adequate protection but involve a cost. Additional protection may be necessary for specialized groups such as cows when calving or purebred animals.
Keep the design simple. Share water bowls between two pens maximum. Pen layout should be rectangular if possible. Group pens such that the system is modular.
Extra pens should be easy to add by simply extending a few alleys and constructing the pens themselves. The feed processing area, cattle handling facilities, calving barn and existing gates should not need relocation when herd expansion occurs.
Alley width is important. Determine what the alley will be used for. Will it move cattle, machinery or both? Make alleys for moving cattle only 8 to 14 ft. (2.4 to 4.2 m) wide. Machinery alleys (for feed trucks and wagons) should be 16 to 18 ft. (4.8 to 5.4 m) wide. Widths greater than 20 ft. (6 m) make cattle movement very difficult and are waste space for machinery movement. However, when machinery must turn within an alley, the width must be increased to as much as 40 ft. (12 m). If a tractor with front-end loader is to enter the pens from a narrow alley, diagonally placed pen entry gates increase the effective alley width. Always take into account that manure removal equipment must be able to manoeuvre into, within and out of pens. Custom manure hauling businesses use very large trucks and spreaders. Gates and alleys must be designed to accommodate this equipment. A generally accepted width of access gate for machinery is 16 ft. (4.8 m).
All alleys must accommodate snow removal and drainage from heavy rains. This drainage should not enter cattle pens. Alleys must have a solid base and an all weather surface. A base mixture of compacted gravel/clay topped with gravel makes an excellent alley.
Tables 1, 2 and 3 provide beef facility design guidelines.
Table 1. Feedlot and Shed Guidelines
*1 Paved lot slopes 1:50 to 1:25
Table 2. Water and Feedbunk Guidelines
*1 The water system must be designed to deliver water to the maximum feedlot capacity with mature animals on a hot day.
*2 Maximum bunk width for mature cattle:
- 24 in. (600 mm) bottom width when fed from one side.
Table 3. Feed, Bedding and Manure Storage
* Maintenance ration only
Suggested layouts shown in Figures 1 and 2 are readily expandable in two directions in group pens of 100 cattle. However, "off the shelf" plans such as these are for new construction and usually require extensive earthwork to develop proper slopes and drainage. The plans shown use pens which measure 150 x 200 ft. (45 x 60 m), have an earth base (unpaved) and have perimeter feed bunks. Windbreak fences, bedding mounds and cattle sheds are shown.
Although these plans give a good outline of what to consider in feedlot design, all systems must be designed specifically for the site and management intentions of the operator.
If possible, locate feed alleys along a natural land ridge. By following a ridge the driveway may be curved or straight. Curved driveways create unevenly shaped pens. However, this design may be less costly for the earth movement required to provide good pen drainage than for the extra fencing costs. Where possible, place feed bunks in a north-south direction. This lets winter sunlight warm both sides of the bunks to reduce snow and ice buildup.
Slope pens a minimum of 1:25 to a maximum of 1:15 away from waterers, feed bunks and rest areas.
If possible, use existing natural windbreaks when selecting a confinement area for cattle. Dense bush makes an excellent windbreak. However, do not let cattle access the complete bush. They will eventually kill the trees by trampling and rubbing. Section off the bush so they can only access a portion of it.
Determine historical patterns of snow deposits around the bush. If snow accumulation is light, pens can start within 30 ft. (10 m) of the bush edge. With heavy snow accumulations, pens should begin no closer than 100 ft. (30 m) from the bush and possibly even 150 ft. (45 m).
If no natural windbreak is available, plant a shelterbelt of trees to act as protection in the future. Place snow fence to prevent snow from entering pens until the trees do an adequate job. Rows of large round bales can also provide wind and snow protection if placed properly.
Windbreak fencing provides excellent protection for cattle during strong, cold winds. Figure 3 shows a typical windbreak fence using double-cut slabs. Place the maximum amount of flat surface against the horizontal supports.
A 20% porosity (80% solid) windbreak fence provides the best wind protection for cattle. Plan S-104 shows the protected area downwind for different types of fences and the resulting snow drifts. As a general rule, cattle have good wind protection downwind for a distance of 8 to 10 times the height of the fence.
Windbreak fencing also acts like a snow fence. Provision must be made for the snow bank that will occur in the pen or else the snow must be trapped before it reaches the windbreak fence. Shelterbelts and/or snow fence situated up wind are necessary to prevent large snow accumulations within the cattle pens.
Never connect a fence, bale stack or other building directly to the corner of the open side of a cattle shed. Such a practice funnels wind into the shed. Figure 4 shows the recommended method of joining a windbreak fence to an open front cattle shed. This also minimizes the amount of snow that accumulates at the front of the shed.
Dry-Bedded Resting Mounds
Elevated, bedded resting areas are very effective for keeping cattle clean and dry.
Bedded mounds should be set away from feeding and watering areas. Make the mounds rectangular shaped. Place mounds so they do not interfere with good pen drainage. A well-compacted soil base material is essential. The top should be rounded with a minimum height of 5 ft. (1.5 m) at the centre. Side slopes must be flat enough that cattle can easily walk to the top of the mound. Maximum side slopes of 1:4 are recommended.
Bedded area requirement should be as detailed in Table 1 to ensure that the manure pack continues to generate heat during winter. A 12 to 18 in. (300 to 450 mm) deep manure pack built up before December will establish a heat source that will continue through the winter.
Common bedding materials used on mounds include wood chips or shavings and straw. The amount of bedding recommended and time interval between application is:
If there is a thick bedding buildup and cattle are keeping dry, application rates may be reduced.
Explore opportunities for alternate bedding materials. This will depend on price, supply and effectiveness. One such alternative is shredded newspaper.
Paved Areas at Waterers, Feed Bunks and Drainage Gutters
There are few feedlots in western Canada where the entire pen area is paved with concrete or asphalt because of high capital cost. Most feedlots have paved areas only at feedbunks, waterers and drainage gutters. This covers about 10% of total pen area.
Paved areas at feed bunks (Figure 5), self feeders and waterers should be wide enough to accommodate all wheels of a tractor with front-end loader or scraper. This keeps the tractor level on the apron and makes scraping easier. A step on the apron, adjacent to feed bunks and waterers, reduces fouling of bunks and waterers with manure. This step also helps calves reach the feed and water.
Reinforced concrete on a compacted-gravel base provides the most satisfactory paved areas. Asphalt can also be used but requires a densely compacted, stabilized base. Asphalt is damaged by cattle hooves and cleaning equipment more readily than concrete. Initial cost of asphalt may be less but concrete is more durable.
Buildup of ice, snow and manure on feed bunk and waterer aprons should be removed as often as possible. A thick buildup contributes to dirty cattle. Excessive buildup forces cattle to kneel to eat or drink. In extreme cases, it can become impossible for animals to eat or drink at all.
Mature cattle produce 1.1 to 1.4 ft.³ (.03 to .04 m³ ) of solid manure, including bedding, per animal per day. Liquids should be drained to a containment area. Use of straw to help build up a manure pack is economical and allows easier manure removal.
Manure should be removed from pens and sheds as soon as field conditions allow for spreading. A smooth tracked, small crawler tractor with bucket causes the least damage to dirt lots. Wheeled loaders must be operated carefully to prevent digging up the pen base. If weather conditions prevent spreading on fields directly, manure will have to be stockpiled and spread at a later date. Manure should be spread and tilled under to reduce fly populations and odour.
Early cleanout of pens and sheds is a good management practice which:
It is usually more convenient to own pen cleaning equipment because frost and inclement weather problems may result in having to clean in stages. Use of custom manure cleaning companies is becoming more common.
When the same area is used for calving each year, calf scour problems usually arise. Proper cleaning will minimize or prevent this from occurring.
Cow/calf wintering sheds can be cleaned using a high pressure sprayer, then disinfecting. Without a thorough cleaning, disinfecting is of little value. Manure must be completely removed from shed or barn walls. If plenty of water is available, soak the manure thoroughly to make it easier to remove.
A sprayer is easier to use than scrapers and scrub-brushes. The sprayer should develop at least 500 psi (3500 kPa) of pressure. Low volume, high pressure sprayers operating at 1000 psi (7000 kPa) do an excellent job of cleaning.
Contact the local veterinary office for assistance in choosing the most effective disinfectant to use.
A shelter's main purpose is to protect cattle from cold wind, drifting snow, rain and extremely high or low temperature. Natural shelter available and cattle hardiness determine the amount of additional shelter required. Winter calving requires shed protection for newborn calves. For animals over 600 lb. (275 kg), windbreak fencing and dry resting areas are sufficient. All sheds should be open to the south, if possible. The greater the depth of the shed, the better the wind protection for the cattle.
Unheated livestock buildings should not be totally enclosed. Total enclosure allows too much moisture buildup and creates an unhealthy environment for cattle. High humidity is a contributing factor to pneumonia and other diseases.
Unheated sheds require good natural ventilation to reduce condensation and frost buildup. The open side of shelters should be away from prevailing winter winds and preferably south facing. Air intake and exhaust openings should be provided (Figure 6). The eave opening is adjacent to the fascia board. Extending the fascia board below the bottom of the rafters and installing partial soffits against the wall will reduce the amount of snow entering the building. The air exhaust slot in the peak of a truss rafter shed should be 1 in. (25 mm) wide for each 10 ft. (3 m) of building width, with a minimum width of 4 in. (100 mm). The exhaust slot should extend the length of the peak except for 8 ft. (2.4 m) at each end. The amount of rain or snow that can enter through this slot is insignificant. However, if this is a concern, Figure 7 shows a simple method of covering the slot to reduce the amount of precipitation that will enter the shed.
Older buildings can be relocated and/or remodelled to reduce investment costs. A remodelled barn should permit manure removal with a front end loader and have proper ventilation. The walls must resist rotting and withstand pressures developed by a manure pack.
Single Slope Cattle Shed
Cattle sheds commonly use pole-type construction. Roofing may be plywood, plywood with asphalt shingles or metal. Figure 8 illustrates a single slope shed.
Pole spacing is usually 12 ft. (3.6 m) on centre. The maximum practical spacing possible with conventional lumber sizes is 16 ft. (4.8 m) on centre. Salvaged round poles are commonly used. Pressure treated square posts are durable and make construction easier.
A minimum depth of shed to provide acceptable wind protection is 24 ft. (7.2 m). This requires one row of centre poles. A 36 ft. (10.8 m) deep shed requires two rows of centre poles.
Planking 3 ft. (1 m) high along the inside of walls keeps the manure pack contained within the shed. This protects the outside cladding from pressure developed by the manure pack. It also provides a smooth surface to assist in cleaning. Sufficient roof clearance is required to allow manure removal equipment to operate.
Open Side, Clear Span Pole Shed
Figure 9 shows this type of shed. Truss rafters are used to eliminate all centre rows of poles. An extended front overhang can increase the effective depth of the shed. However, adequate clearance is required for manure removal equipment. As with the previous shed, planking is placed along the inside of the walls to contain the manure pack.
Since there is a higher roof load on each of the poles, better quality, and possible larger poles, are required than can be used in the single slope shed. End wall doors are optional for adding bedding and removing manure. However, problems can be encountered with the manure pack interfering with door operation.
Open End, Clear Span Pole Shed
Figure 10 shows this type of shed. Truss rafters are used to eliminate centre poles. The end wall is left open rather than the side wall. Construction is virtually identical to that of the open side, clear span shed. Doors are optional.
Producers experience calf losses that often could be reduced with a good calving barn. A small operation can fit calving pens into existing barns and sheds. Large ranches or breeders of purebred cattle may need a specialized calving barn. The time of year that calving occurs will determine the type of calving facility required. Safe calving in January requires more elaborate shelter than calving in March.
Cold Caving Barn
Figure 11 shows an uninsulated pole frame calving barn with a clear span trussed roof. This barn has a loose-housing area, several box stalls which can be increased or decreased in number by using removable gate panels, a chute for holding and treating cows, and a small service room. Box stalls for calving are 12 x 12 ft. (3.6 x 3.6 m) minimum. By removing gate panels, stalls can be opened up to make group pens. Panels are removed completely for manure removal.
Do not attempt to keep the calf barn too warm. Temperature is not maintained above freezing. A cold dry building is better for calving than a warm humid one. This barn is ventilated through the south-facing open end and an open slot at the roof ridge. If the calving barn is closed on all sides, use ridge and eave vents to let moisture and heat escape.
Temporary box stalls/calving pens can be placed in the corners of cattle sheds using 12 ft. (3.6 m) gates. Each gate is hinged 12 ft. (3.6 m) from the corner of two adjoining walls. Normally these gates are folded flush to the wall. When a pen is required, the gates are swung out and pinned together. Extra straw and supplemental heat create an ideal calving area.
Warm Calving Barn
If calving occurs during severe winter conditions, a warm insulated barn may be desired. A warm barn is more pleasant to work in but may be too warm for a cow that has been outside. Barn temperatures need only be above freezing for the cow. A new born calf can be placed under a heat source, in a hot box or in a warmer room until dried off. Higher temperatures may be desirable when preparing animals for show or sale. Since the barn is kept above freezing, automatic waterers can be installed.
Figure 12 shows a barn plan with open clear span construction. Barn size will depend on individual needs during calving. Several cows requiring close observation can be held together in loose housing at one end. Pens [12 ft. x 12 ft. (3.6 m x 3.6 m)] can be set up for calving as needed. All panels can be removed for manure cleanout with a tractor.
A headgate and swinging gate panels for restraining a cow should be incorporated between two pens. Face the cow towards the wall so the alley area can be used to assist the cow during calving. The gates can also be used when treating a cow or assisting a calf to suck.
Insulated barns need to be mechanically ventilated. Exhaust fans moving a minimum of 25 cfm (325 L/s) per cow are required for winter ventilation. Self adjusting air inlets mounted in the ceiling or walls work well for low air flow rates. Supplemental heat will be necessary to maintain the temperature. Heat exchangers will not work if barn temperatures are just above freezing. An air recirculation exhaust system eliminates poorly ventilated areas within the barn.
Placing an insulated heated storage and work room in one corner of the barn is an asset. It can be used for warming new born calves if necessary.
Portable Calving Shelters
Portable calving shelters provide excellent facilities for calving in fields or on open range during adverse weather. They can be particularly suited to production of purebred stock, permitting extra attention. Locate the shelter in a readily accessible but sheltered field or feedlot.
When calving in freezing weather, additional heat can be provided to a newborn calf for the first 12 to 18 hours, after which calf and mother are turned out. When calving in January or February, it is advisable to have a three pen system for every 30 to 40 cows because every calf may need to go through the shelter. For spring calving, the shelters would only be used for problem cases.
The advantage of this system is that the shelter can be moved to clean areas to reduce calf scours. If the calving herd is split into separate groups of 25 to 30 animals, older calves won't spread scours to younger calves. If the calving area is extremely dirty, move the herd to a clean field even if there is snow on the ground.
Heat for Cold Weather Calving
Infrared heaters (Figure 13) are efficient for warming newborn calves. They can be electric, propane or natural gas. They heat only the objects which the rays strike. Air through which rays travel is not heated. Since the air is not heated, it is very important that these heaters be used only in draft free conditions to ensure calf comfort.
Because many beef operations use uninsulated barns for winter housing, conventional heat sources are very expensive. Building one or more box stalls and incorporating infrared heaters allows warmed confinement of a cow and calf until the calf can withstand cold.
A 1750 watt, 120 volt infrared heater mounted 5 ft. (1.5 m) above the calf in a corner of the box stall, provides adequate heat. This corner should be boarded off so the cow can lick the calf but can not block heat rays from warming the calf. At this mounting height, the unit will heat an area approximately 6 x 8 ft. (1.8 x 2.4 m), yielding a temperature rise of about 20 degrees C for the calf. Temperature rise can be increased or decreased by raising or lowering the height of the unit.
Loop and tape any slack heater cord (Figure 13) so the unit will unplug if it falls. Infrared headers must not be supported by the electrical cord. Hang heaters in a level position from the ceiling with chains or wires. Chains and eye hooks are recommended because they allow easy mounting height adjustment. Protect heaters with barriers which will prevent animals from contacting and damaging the cord or heater. For safety, ensure the heater is properly grounded.
A minimum distance of 24 in. (600 mm) must be maintained between the heater and any combustible materials such as straw. Check the manufacturer's specifications.
Gas fired infrared heaters usually warm larger areas. Check with local suppliers concerning sizes, mounting instructions and safety precautions.
Hot boxes are completely enclosed, insulated boxes which hold one or two calves. Calves are placed in these boxes until they have dried off and gained some strength (Figure 14). Supplemental heat keeps the box warm.
Typical dimensions are 3 to 4 ft. (1 to 1.2 m) wide by 4 ft. (1.2 m) high by 4 to 8 ft. (1.2 to 2.4 m) long. Multiples of 4 ft. (1.2 m) dimensions use plywood efficiently with minimal cutting. These boxes are usually placed inside a cattle shed or uninsulated building which is close to the calving area.
Calf Range Shelter
Portable calf range shelters (Figure 15) are popular with cow-calf operators who require additional shelter for young calves on range during chilly wet weather. Shelters should be located on a well-drained knoll with the open front facing south. If the site is exposed to strong winds, anchor the corners. Bed the floor liberally with straw, wood chips or other dry bedding material. When the manure pack needs cleaning out, pry the skids out of the manure pack and tow the shelter to a new site. Spread the manure after the shelter has been moved.