Environmental Services Director
This month, let’s visit about mounds in feedlot pens and whether or not they are necessary management components.
Muddy feedlots are expensive, since muddy conditions decrease feed intake, slow average daily gain, increase foot problems and increase the amount of feed required for each pound of gain. Well-designed mounds are areas cattle can use to get away from the mud and can provide economical alternatives to bedding. Mounds, in my opinion, certainly have their place in feedlot management.
Similar to almost all aspects of feedlots that we have discussed the last several months, there are some pros and cons to mounds.
Two pros that I see with mounds in feedlot pens are 1) they provide cattle with a dry place to get up on and rest; and 2) they offer some wind protection.
Additionally, mounds add more space per square foot for the animals’ comfort. Proper mound construction requires approximately 20 to 40 square feet of space per head on each side of the mound. An entire pen of cattle should be able to rest on one side of the mound without lying on each other.
On the con side, feedlot mounds can become cost prohibitive, unless there is extra soil available during the feedlot construction phase. Another con is that mounds can alter a pen’s drainage if they are not placed in the correct location.
When constructing mounds, there are some calculations to consider, like proper height and side slope. I recommend building the mounds roughly parallel to the general direction of the lot drainage to avoid blocking natural drainage paths. Locate mounds so that one end joins the concrete aprons adjacent to the feed bunks and waterers, so that cattle do not have to cross wet areas to get to feed or water.
Another recommendation I have for you is this: as tough as it may be not to, don’t add bedding, such as straw, to your mounds. Bedding on the mounds simply increases the chance for disease, since it prevents the mounds from drying off in a timely matter. Bare soil heats up and dries faster and, therefore, becomes a great place for the cattle to rest.
Finally, don’t push up the manure in your pens and call them mounds. Mounds need to be constructed of soil material in order to get the benefits from them.
If your pens are designed with a 2 to 4 percent slope (ideally south-facing) and good manure and pen management are used annually, most feedlots can promote cattle comfort without mounds. However, properly constructed and maintained mounds can enhance conditions, as well as cattle performance, during inclement weather.
A few days back, NDSA President Warren Zenker was out in the “wintery” spring weather checking his cows. He came back to the house and asked his wife Linda, “What do you call an old snowman?” His answer: “Water!”