Right time for new feedlot
T he decision to install a new feedlot didn’t come easy for John Vlcek. For several decades, John has raised crops and cattle in partnership with his late father, Joe, near Tabor, S.D. Joe retired shortly before he passed away in 2012.
John’s father’s illness and death, which happened in the midst of developing the feedlot, made it challenging to focus on the details of his new venture. However, with the feedlot up and running, he has no doubt that he made the right choice.
“My dad and I always raised livestock,” he says. “For a while we had both beef and hogs. After hog prices crashed in 1998, I switched mainly to feeding cattle. I sold my sows and bought half a yard of calves with Dad. Over a period of time, I increased the number of calves I was feeding. When Dad retired I took over the feedlot, usually feeding about 550 calves at a time.”
Vlcek’s new feedlot is permitted for 999 head, and he typically carries 900 calves each year. “I don’t like to crowd the pens, so I don’t max out my numbers,” he says. “I usually buy lighter-weight Angus-cross calves that are between 450 and 550 pounds, and take them to finish.”
He selected what he believes is best site on the farm for the feedlot.
“We had a seasonal waterway that used to go through one of our cattle yards,” Vlcek says. “That was very typical of many older farmsteads in this area. The fact that government officials are monitoring wastewater issues more and more closely coupled with our farm’s location, 1.5 miles from the Missouri River, I knew it was time to make some changes.”
Two other factors — Vlcek’s 17-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, who both indicate they want to return to the farm following college — made it clear to John that he needed to modify his farming operation to accommodate future changes.
• New feedlot sets up family to continue in cattle business.
• New feedlot meets environmental standards and contains runoff.
• Design reduces short- and long-term maintenance requirements.
“I want to secure my children’s future in the cattle-feeding business,” he says. “That’s what my father did for me. It’s a good opportunity for family members to continue the family farm.”
Vlcek’s feedlot encompasses about 25 acres. The topography of the site is well-suited to feedlot use.
“The feedlot gently slopes to the south,” Vlcek says. “That makes design of the waste system very basic. Rainwater that runs through the feedlot flows into a sediment basin, where solids have a chance to settle out before water flows into the lagoon.”
Designing a feedlot with a south-facing slope isn’t always an option for beef producers. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Mark Rohlfing at Tyndall, S.D., says the southern slope Vlcek was able to work into his new feedlot will provide benefits for the life of the facility.
“The design, which includes a windbreak on the north, helps protect cattle from harsh winter winds,” Rohlfing says. “South-facing slopes are generally drier and better for cattle gains. During hot, dry summers, John will use a sprinkler system to help cool cattle.”
Joy Cordier Jensen, USDA NRCS civil engineer at Brookings, S.D., says Vlcek’s southern slope works well for the system’s gravity-flow waste storage system.
“The system didn’t require any pumps to pump liquid into the holding pond,” Cordier Jensen says. “John’s waste management system consists of a sediment basin that settles out the manure solids with a pipe that conveys liquid from the sediment basin into the holding pond.”
John Lentz, NRCS resource conservationist at Mitchell, S.D., says starting with a clean slate is often a plus for developing a new feedlot design.
“Selecting a new site for a feedlot often makes it much easier to design a highly functional system because the new design doesn’t have to be retrofitted to an existing space,” Lentz says.
The design of Vlcek’s feedlot will simplify short-term and long-term maintenance activities.
“The more components in a waste management system, the more the producer has to check and ensure everything is operating correctly,” Lentz says. “John will follow an NRCS-approved nutrient management plan to properly apply and utilize any manure hauled out of his feedlot. This is a win-win since research has clearly documented that nutrients such as N, P and K improve crop yields. If those nutrients are properly applied, there are no environmental issues such as phosphorus runoff into surface water or nitrate leaching into groundwater.”
Vlcek installed fabricated windbreak panels to provide some immediate wind protection for his cattle, and planted a living windbreak. As the trees mature, they will add wind protection and help conceal the site from public view.
“There’s a five- to seven-year wait for a shelterbelt to mature,” Lentz says. “The artificial windbreaks are helpful, but the shelterbelt will also reduce odor, provide particulate filtering and improve landscape aesthetics.”
This article published in the October, 2014 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.
Beef Herd Management
Photo: Loretta Sorensen