BUILDING new feeding facilities can mean shelling out serious cash, but according to Ron Graber, Kansas State University watershed extension specialist, it's an investment that pays for itself for years to come.
Investing in such a project requires the right equipment and expertise, and Graber said the best place for producers to start is by evaluating the site and enlisting the help of watershed specialists.
Geographic differences. According to Graber, geographic location, especially in Kansas, plays a substantial role in the environmental soundness of a cattle feeding site. For example, steeper slopes in eastern Kansas, minimum rainfall in western Kansas and sensitive groundwater in central and south-central Kansas all pose threats to production.
"If producers live in the western part of the state, rainfall is at a minimum," Graber explained. "From an environmental standpoint, that makes it easier to deal with, because we can minimize runoff."
Conversely, producers who live in the southeastern part of the state and get 45 in. of rain a year have a lot of potential runoff to deal with, he added, noting that in this instance, "we'd like to see something a little more gradual" — a slope of 1.5-2.0%.
"Often, it's more difficult to site a feeding operation in the eastern part of the state than it is in the western part of the state," Graber said.
Sensitive or contaminated groundwater in central and south-central Kansas could be a major factor in determining where to build a cattle feeding facility, Graber noted.
"We typically look at surface runoff, but if the site is in a sensitive groundwater area, then we have to look at groundwater pollution as well," he said.
Producers should also pay close attention to management-related hazards when building new facilities, Graber said. Take note of where pens are located near the water source and the slope within pens, and consider the placement of a grass buffer area to filter out solids.
Making sure cattle feeding facilities are environmentally sound could pay off financially.
"If it's a new operation, it will pay dividends if they take a close look at that site before they start building any pens," Graber said.
If a producer has chosen a site that is environmentally poor, Graber said it's time to start searching for a new site, and the first step producers can take is to contact a watershed specialist.
"The starting point is getting some help evaluating their site," Graber said. "Maybe they're already located in a bad site, and in some cases, there are some management things we can help them do. There are a few of them out there that are just poor sites and don't have many options, and (producers) may need to totally relocate to a new site."
It is important to be aware of environmental considerations, Graber said. Producers should know the differences between desirable and undesirable sites and apply that knowledge to their own operations.
"A lot of times we find that if producers make these changes that help them reach the environmental expectations of the Kansas Department of Health & Environment, it also helps profitability," Graber said.
Project expenses and cost-share assistance. The amount of money it will take to make the changes depends on the individual site, the size of the site and whether or not the site is environmentally sound, Graber said.
"If it's a sizeable operation where they may need a wastewater pond or they have to do a lot of dirt reshaping, then it can get into quite a few dollars," he said. "We can see the cost of making the changes get as high as $30,000 to $40,000 if we're putting in a wastewater pond. If they're on the other end and we can make a few management changes, sometimes we can get them done for $2,000 to $3,000. It depends on the site."
In Kansas, Graber noted that assistance that goes toward developing, evaluating and relocating cattle feeding facilities is available.
"Money is available to assist producers with projects such as relocating pens, creating diversions, moving dirt and building wastewater ponds through a number of national, state and local programs," he said.
Graber explained that most of those funds come from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
"There also are some state water plan funds available through the Division of Conservation," he said. "It's primarily an application process through the local NRCS office or conservation district."
In addition to local NRCS programs, Graber said cattle producers have access to Watershed Restoration & Protection Strategy funds. He said there are a number of watersheds in the state that have these plans in place.
"There are cost-share funds available if you are in one of those high-priority watersheds as listed in those plans," he added.
Graber said several watershed specialists work throughout Kansas to help put these funds into place.
"Most often, the local extension offices or conservation districts will know what a producer's options are," he said.
Purdue University scientist Jon Schoonmaker and his colleagues recently conducted research that found that small amounts of calcium oxide can neutralize the acid in distillers grains.
This is good news for beef producers hoping to provide a more nutritious, better-balanced diet to their animals while keeping their feed budgets manageable.
"Incorporating calcium oxide into the feed mix represents a small increase in price for much better performance," Schoonmaker said. "The benefits are especially important now that many producers are thinking about increasing the size of their herds to take advantage of improving market conditions."
Distillers grains, a relatively inexpensive and plentiful byproduct of ethanol production, can be fed to animals in a wet form with a 65% moisture content or in a dried form at 10% moisture.
However, distillers grains retain the sulfuric acid that was used to control starch fermentation during ethanol production, making it difficult for cattle to fully digest the feed. The undigested feed is essentially empty calories, like junk food, because the animal gets no nutritional value from it.
Adding the calcium oxide directly to the ration mix at a rate of 1% of the total dry matter makes the distillers grains less acidic, more digestible and, therefore, more nutritious, leading to better growth performance among the test cattle, Schoonmaker said.
"Adding the (calcium oxide) directly to the ration saves time and labor compared with the more traditional method of pretreating low-quality roughages like corn stover while they are still in the field," he noted.
Schoonmaker said calcium oxide is a completely natural, harmless supplement. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration determined in 1975 that there is no evidence that calcium oxide in livestock feed poses any danger to people who consume the meat.
During their three years of studies, Schoonmaker and his colleagues have evaluated different dietary concentrations of distillers grains, ranging from 30% to 60% of the mix, as well as different fiber sources, including corn silage, corn stover and soybean hulls. In addition to the distillers grains and fiber, the feed mix in this study consisted of dry rolled corn and a vitamin/mineral supplement.
"The key is to maintain a rumen pH that is high enough for optimum fiber digestion either with (calcium oxide) or matching highly digestible fiber sources," Schoonmaker said.
Overall, the groups that were fed distillers grains with the calcium oxide supplement performed better than the other test cattle, consuming less feed while maintaining a steady increase in bodyweight.
The results indicated that a cattle diet of distillers grains with calcium oxide would have comparable outcomes to a diet consisting of higher-quality feeder corn, Schoonmaker said.
Although the price of corn plummeted this year after it became apparent that nearly ideal growing conditions would lead to a bumper crop, Schoonmaker said there were still several reasons why livestock producers might choose distillers grains over corn.
In addition, Schoonmaker pointed out that higher feed prices are always just one bad corn harvest away, making distillers grains an appealing option to have in reserve.
"No one can tell what next year will bring," he said. "It is always good to have a backup plan."
The paper by Schoonmaker and his team was published in the Journal of Animal Science.
Tama plant reopens
After sitting idle for 10 years, a meat packing plant in Tama, Iowa, has reopened.
The Iowa Premium Beef facility, which has a maximum potential of more than 2,000 head per day, will purchase high-quality Black Angus cattle raised on family farms within 150 miles of Tama.
A new welfare facility for the harvest floor, a new hot carcass cooler, a new refrigerated distribution center and a new wastewater treatment facility were all part of a $48.6 million investment spent to upgrade the 200,000 sq. ft. plant before it resumed processing.
When the plant closed in 2004, 500 people were left jobless. Iowa Premium Beef has initially hired 300 employees and plans to add another 300 people.