Ever since livestock were first put underneath a roof, animals have been positively and sometimes negatively influenced by how that housing is managed. This year’s James Bailey Herd Health Conference for veterinarians, held in February at SDSU, highlighted a variety of perspectives on how veterinarians and producers can better operate their livestock facilities to improve animal health.
Monoslope Confinement Buildings
Monoslope confinement buildings for beef cattle have popped up in recent years all over eastern South Dakota. These structures facilitate manure management and protect cattle from the elements, but feature relatively high startup costs. SDSU Extension’s Dr. Erin Cortus described efforts of a multi-state group studying air quality in these barns. Particulate matter (dust), along with gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane, can greatly affect the occurrence of bovine respiratory disease. While outside weather conditions influence inside air quality, management practices also are important in maintaining a healthy indoor environment. Increasing the north wall curtain opening tends to lower concentrations of gases within the building, but will increase airflow through the building and aerial emissions to the surrounding environment. Manure management strategies can also affect air quality. Bedded packs generally result in more variable gas emissions compared to barns where manure and bedding is regularly removed. Dust in monoslope barns is generally lower when compared to open feedlots, but can temporarily become an issue when bedding is added to the pen.
SDSU Opportunities Farm Research
The SDSU Opportunities Farm is a great real-world laboratory in which different cattle facilities are used side by side. Dr. Reid McDaniel and Heidi Carroll from SDSU presented 6 years’ worth of health data from that farm, which demonstrates a monoslope barn, open pen, and an open pen with a sheltered feeding area. Significant differences were not evident over that period between facilities in terms of morbidity and specific disease rates. Cattle in open pens had significantly higher rates of overall illness and respiratory disease compared to cattle fed in the open with a sheltered feeding area, but no other significant differences were noted. The full summary will be available later this year in the upcoming 2014 South Dakota Beef Report.
Cattle Handling Facilities
Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz, a veterinarian with Production Animal Consultants in St. Paul, Nebraska, spoke on cattle handling facility design with an eye toward low-stress methods of handling. Dr. Lukasiewicz’ task was to present the pros and cons of two popular working facility designs: the “Bud Box” versus curved alley configurations. In general, straight alleys that enable cattle to see their surroundings tend to be preferred by his clients, as they more closely mimic the natural traffic flow of cattle. Cattle are more apt to move in a circular route when they are pursued by predators. Regardless of facility design, the attitude and positioning of people play a major role in encouraging cattle to move in a low-stress, efficient manner through a facility.
Calf Barn Management
Raising dairy calves in the northern plains, implies providing them shelter from harsh seasonal weather. Using calf barns for weaned as well as pre-weaned calves has labor-saving advantages but can adversely affect health if not managed correctly. A critical aspect of calf barn management is ventilation, which was outlined by the University of Minnesota’s Dr. Kevin Janni. Designing and managing barns so that fresh air enters and is mixed in the right proportion requires an understanding of ventilation system principles. Proper design can be challenging in northern climates, where a system must allow for high summer airflow requirements as well as minimum winter ventilation rates. Proper mixing of incoming air can be accomplished by installing ventilation tubes, for which a number of engineering parameters must be considered.
Automated Calf Feeding Systems
A phenomenon related to calf raising that is becoming more popular in the region is the use of automated calf feeding systems, explained to conference attendees by Jim Salfer from the University of Minnesota. These systems allow calves to drink a precise amount of milk replacer or pasteurized whole milk according to their specific needs. However, unless regularly maintained and cleaned, these systems can increase health challenges for calves. Farms that manage these units adequately can reap rewards in better performing calves in the long term provided they pay close attention to ventilation, bedding, and individual animal care.
The topics at this year’s conference illustrated the great lengths to which technology has influenced the world of animal care – specifically the environments in which we raise animals. We have moved well past the era when all our livestock species had to fend for themselves in open fields. Raising animals in climates such as the Dakotas sometimes requires that we protect animals from the extremes of heat, bitter cold, snow and rain. Our facilities can do that for us, but if we don’t pay close attention to how we maintain and design these buildings and systems, we may cause more health problems than we solve.
Contact Dr. Russ Daly, SDSU Extension Veterinarian for questions or additional information at 605.688.6589.