Question: What kinds of problems one might expect keeping cows and calves in a drylot production setting?

Answer from University of Nebraska animal scientist Rick Funston, PhD, with information drawn from V.L. Anderson, Carrington Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University and S.L. Boyles, Beef Extension Specialist, Ohio State University.

Why Consider Drylot?

The drylot beef cow/calf enterprise is an alternative management system to traditional pasture or range beef production. Strictly defined, it is feeding confined cow/calf pairs in a feedlot environment during part or all of the traditional summer or fall-winter grazing season. In a practical sense, it means feeding confined cows and calves forages, crop residues and grains that may have more value marketed through cattle than as a cash crop. Many cattlemen manage their cows in drylot during the winter and after calving until pastures are ready. Advantages and disadvantages to consider include:


  • Increased marketability of crop residues, forages and other feedstuffs
  • More control of the herd for health and management
  • Easier synchronization and artificial insemination
  • Increased number of cows per bull with natural service
  • Flexibility of management (drylot during breeding or prior to weaning)
  • Very low weaning stress for calves
  • Easily integrated to backgrounding calves – “bunk broke”
  • More beef produced per acre due to efficient machine harvest vs. grazing
  • Allows for pasture or rangeland restoration
  • Market for frost-damaged, drought-stressed, sprouted or cheap feeds
  • Extends production life of broken-mouth cows
  • Maximizes use of facilities
  • Increased manure accumulation for fertilizing cropland
  • Marketing flexibility
  • Potential lower cost of production


  • Increased labor and equipment use for feeding
  • More manure spreading required
  • Faster depreciation of facilities and equipment
  • Higher level of management needed for ration balancing and herd health
  • Possible increased crowding and associated stress
  • Potential for more rapid spread of contagious diseases
  • More challenging environment (dust, mud, flies, etc.) for cattle
  • More harvested feed required for lactation and creep rations
  • Increased odor from manure

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