The relative advantages or disadvantages of various feedlot designs can depend on size, location and other variables. John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center, recently presented a cost analysis of feedlot designs to a symposium titled "Cattle Feeding in Iowa for the 21st Century."

Researchers compared four systems in three size ranges of 750, 1,500 and 5,000 head. The four designs were:

  • Open feedlot with a windbreak.
  • Open feedlot with a shed.
  • Total confinement with a concrete floor.
  • Total confinement with a slatted floor


The Iowa Beef Center reports the following results:


  • 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 than 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 percent 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 that incorporates animal performance. For feedlots with fewer than 1,000-head capacity, the earthen feedlots have 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.