Drylot Beef Cow/Calf Production (AS974 (Revised))

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.

V.L. Anderson, Animal Scientist, Carrington Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University

S.L. Boyles, Beef Extension Specialist, The 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

Drylot will not replace grazing cattle to any great extent, but in some situations may supplement grazing practices or be a viable alternative management system. Drylot is an option during a drought, herd expansion or loss of pastures. Drylot may allow new cattlemen the opportunity to start a herd without a large investment in land. Dairy farmers wanting to reduce labor output and still utilize feed storage and cattle facilities could switch to drylot beef cows. Farmers with weather-damaged, low-value or excess crop products, such as screenings, sprouted grains and straw or stover, may feed cows in drylot on a custom or profit-share basis. Some crop rotations may benefit from high-yielding forages that are harvested as silage or hay and marketed through drylot beef cows. Modeling studies suggest a typical eastern North Dakota farm of about 2,000 acres with conventional cropping could support 85 beef cows without deliberate feed production on the cropland acres. The addition of a drylot beef cow enterprise would increase and stabilize net income and improve the biological and economic sustainability of this farm.


The critical period for drylot beef cows corresponds to the normal grazing season.

Adequate nutrition must be provided for a cow to produce milk at her genetic potential plus return to estrus and rebreed for a 365-day calving interval. A wide variety of feedstuffs can be used in balancing cow rations. Ingredients should be analyzed for nutrient content and rations balanced to meet requirements based on milk production, cow condition, age and cow size. The National Research Council Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle (1996) provides basic nutritional information on dry matter (DM), energy, protein, minerals and vitamins for a range of cow weights of average and superior milking ability.

Feeding by Nutrient Requirements

Cow/calf pairs should be sorted and fed by nutrient requirements to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding. Young, thin cows and first-calf heifers need more energy and protein in their diets and should be penned and fed separately to meet their needs. Mature cows in good flesh need less energy per equivalent body weight. Dominant cows may prevent more timid animals from eating when feeder space is limited. The number of pens should allow for sorting and feeding cows in groups according to age, condition and stage of gestation/lactation. Different nutrient requirements based on milk production, cow condition and other factors may require additional pens for optimum use of feed resources. Breeding systems may impose additional pen requirements to expose cows to the desired breed of sire. After the breeding season is over, sorting cow/calf pairs by sex of calf will permit higher energy creep rations to be offered to steer or bull calves for faster growth and easier transition to the feedlot. Heifer calves should be offered a low to moderate energy creep diet to minimize fat deposition in the udder, which can affect milk production potential negatively.


Cows can utilize a wide variety of feedstuffs as long as the ration is palatable and balanced for the cow’s needs and genetic potential. Several years’ experience with a drylot beef cow herd at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center has validated the concept that a balanced ration formulated to meet the cows’ needs supports healthy and productive animals with excellent reproductive performance.

Corn grown for silage produces more energy per acre than any other crop. Corn silage is very palatable and conditions a ration with other ingredients. Alfalfa is excellent forage as haylage or dry hay and provides protein, energy and minerals. Nondairy-quality alfalfa or mixed grass-alfalfa forages should be fed at economic and nutritionally appropriate levels. A wide variety of feeds can be used for drylot cows. Consider cost per unit of protein and/or energy in purchasing and feeding these ingredients and include transportation and storage losses.

Most all crop residues, Conservation Reserve Program hay, ditch hay, slough hay and other low-quality forages can be used in drylot diets when properly supplemented. The very poor-quality/indigestible forages should be used judiciously as impaction of the rumen can occur, especially with chopped low-quality forages at higher proportions of a dry diet.

Ration 1 below has been used successfully for cows of average milking ability at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center Livestock Unit. Ration 2 resulted in a few more open cows than Ration 1, but cow and calf growth were satisfactory. Ration 3 is a no-silage diet for average milking cows. If 100 percent hay rations are considered, analysis for protein and energy are critical. Grain and other supplemental energy or protein can be fed to make up any shortage. Distillers grains with solubles are commonly considered in cow rations. Rations 5 and 6 provide example diets with ethanol coproducts. Condensed distillers solubles, a liquid coproduct, are useful when mixed with low-quality forage and is an excellent ration conditioner.

Rations for lactating cows

Mineral requirements will vary with feeds. As a general recommendation, cows should be provided with trace mineral salt and a calcium (Ca)-phosphorus (P) mineral supplement to achieve a Ca-P ratio of 1.5-to-1 in the entire diet. Use of distillers coproducts or grains may eliminate the need for a phosphorus supplement. A mineral mix can be fed free choice, but mixing it in the ration ensures more uniform intake. Cows fed high volumes of crop residue may require more careful mineral supplementation. Special consideration needs to be given to mineral supplementation if deficiencies or toxicity problems are known.

With the increased use of distiller grains with solubles in beef cow rations, fat and sulfur levels should be monitored closely. The maximum sulfur (S) level, according to the National Research Council (1996), is .4 percent. Excess dietary S can be a problem for ruminants for two reasons. First, high levels of sulfur (above 0.4 percent of diet dry matter) from feed and water can lead to polioencephalomalacia (PEM), or “brainers.” Second, sulfur interferes with copper absorption/metabolism. Producers in areas with suspected high sulfate in the water should test their water. In the table below, examples of distillers grains with solubles were created having a sulfur content of .60 percent, .80 percent and 1 percent and its impact on a corn-corn silage diet at different levels of inclusion. Notice the table has several situations where we are close or above the suggested maximum level of sulfur in the diet.

Sulfer content in beef cow diets

Fat or oil content of cattle diets should not exceed 5 percent to 6 percent of dry-matter intake. Dried distillers grains with solubles can range from 8 percent to as high as 12 percent fat content, and other feeds contain some fat or oil as well.

Limit Feeding or Partial Restriction of Hay

Hay-restricted diets can be economical during winter feeding of gestation diets or summer lactation rations. Secure facilities to control hungry cattle are needed. For producers with marginal facilities, substituting grain for only part of the hay or roughage is advised. A minimum of 0.5 pound of hay per 100 pounds of body weight is suggested (6 pounds of hay/day for a 1,200-pound cow). During extremely cold weather or in pastures with little winter protection, hay could be increased to 0.75 pound of hay per 100 pounds of body weight or 9 pounds of hay/day for a 1,200-pound cow). Additional forage can be provided in the form of low-quality hay, straw or stover bales placed in hay feeders. This hay, however, must be purchased or harvested at a low price to maintain an economical diet.

Substituting grain for hay is economical when forages are in short supply or very expensive. In the past, grains often have been priced lower per unit of energy than hay but often higher per pound. In this scenario, smaller amounts of grain must be fed to substitute economically for hay. Feeding a restricted amount of grain with little or no forage can be a management problem as cows will compete for any available forage and “work the fences.” The following is an example study conducted at The Ohio State University (OSU) with 1,300-pound cows.

1. Midgestation cows (November-December): Feed 4 pounds of first-cutting hay; 2 pounds of 36 percent protein, vitamin, mineral supplement; and 1 percent of cow body weight of corn per cow (e.g., 13 pounds for a 1,300-pound cow). For late gestation and or very cold weather, increase the corn an additional 2 to 3 pounds per head per day.

2. Feed corn whole. Whole corn works better than ground corn when daily hay intake is limited to less than 5 pounds per day.

3. Adjust corn intake to achieve desired weight and/or body condition score.

4. When starting the program, take three to four days to increase the corn and decrease the hay a 4-pound level. Make sure bunk space is adequate so all cows get their share and that cows are in a securely fenced area.

5. Table 3 is an example supplement (feed at 2 pounds/cow/day).

Supplement Formulation

Ward et al. (2004) at South Dakota State University replaced alfalfa hay with increasing levels of dry-rolled barley to mid- and late-gestation cows from January to April. Control cows consumed 20 to 23.5 pounds of hay. The “low” barley treatment group consumed 5.3 to 6.2 pounds of barley per day with 12.5 to 13.9 pounds of hay. The “high” barley group ate 10.6 to 12.6 pounds of barley plus 4.9 to 5.7 pounds of hay daily. A protein/trace mineral supplement was fed to all cows at 0.5 pound per head per day that provided 200 milligrams of Rumensin per head. Both barley groups gained more weight and body condition than cows fed alfalfa with similar pregnancy rates observed during the following breeding season.

Alternative Feeds

All potential feeds available in the region should be considered in drylot production. The conventional ones include corn, milo and sorghum silage; alfalfa hay and haylage; prairie hay; brome grass hay; millet hay; corn, milo and millet stover; cereal grain hay and straw; soybean meal; soybean hulls; canola and canola meal; sunflowers and sunflower meal; flax; linseed meal; barley; barley malt; wheat; wheat mill run; corn gluten feed; distillers grains; condensed distillers solubles; field peas; dry beans; oats; sorghum; and minor grains, such as rye and millet. Other feeds that are useful include potato processing products, beet pulp and tailings beet molasses and de-sugared molasses, screenings of all kinds, hulls of all kinds, food processing waste and several others. A number of studies at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center have focused on the usefulness of a wide variety of coproducts and new feed grains available in the region for the cow-calf and feedlot enterprises. The following briefly describes some of the studies and results:

Wet potato coproducts

Lactating mature crossbred beef cows were fed high levels of wet potato coproduct (17 percent DM) which constituted 25 percent of dry-matter intake (DMI), wheat straw (45 percent of DMI), wheat midds (15 percent of DMI) and chopped alfalfa hay (15 percent of DMI). Compared with corn silage-based diets, cows gained more weight and increased body condition score with the raw potato coproduct diet with no difference in conception rate.

Barley malt or wheat midds

Barley malt (25 percent of DMI) or wheat midds (22 percent of DMI) was included in lactating drylot mature beef cow diets with wet potato waste (54 percent of DMI), straw (21 percent to 25 percent of DMI) and small amounts of alfalfa hay (12 percent of DMI) without negative effects. Conception rates were 96 percent at fall pregnancy palpation. Wheat midds were fed at about 50 percent of DMI to lactating first-calf heifers with straw at 32 percent of DMI and alfalfa at 18 percent of DMI with no observable difference, compared with the corn silage-alfalfa hay-based control ration.

Sunflower screenings

In another treatment in this study, including sunflower screenings (37 percent of DMI replacing potato waste and malt/midds) resulted in significant weight and body condition loss for the cows and decreased conception rate. This is a highly variable screenings product in which we observed decreasing nutrient content as the sunflower cleaning season advanced. Further work with sunflower screenings infected with sclerotinia bodies (52 percent of sunflower screenings on a weight basis) fed to mature lactating beef cows indicated no deleterious effect on gain or body condition score when this product was fed at about 40 percent of DMI in a diet that contained corn silage, alfalfa hay and straw.

Low-quality Barley

Noninfected or infected (36 parts per million deoxynivalenol or DON) dry-rolled barley was fed to first-calf heifers in mixed diets that included corn silage, alfalfa hay and straw. During mid and late gestation, heifers were fed 8.15 pounds of barley daily, with 9.37 pounds offered after calving. No negative effects were observed for cow and calf performance.

Dry edible bean splits

Dry bean splits must be roasted at 300 F if fed at more than 4 percent to 5 percent of DM intake to deactivate the enzyme mechanism that can cause severe diarrhea.

Additional field studies successfully have incorporated canola meal, linseed meal, sunflower meal, crambe meal, distillers grains, flax, oat hulls and other feeds in balanced mixed rations for lactating and gestating beef cows.

The volume of coproducts continues to grow, especially with the development of the ethanol and biodiesel industries. Coproduct prices have had significant seasonal swings, with lower demand and price in the summer. New and consistent export markets may challenge domestic supply and prices for some coproducts. The reader is cautioned to be careful in purchasing, for storage, coproducts with concerns about moisture content affecting shelf life and mold growth, flowability and handling characteristics, variation and levels of fat and minerals, especially sulfur, and other physical and nutritional issues that may be problematic. Publications are available from NDSU ( and OSU ( that provide additional information on various feedstuffs.

Feed Preparation and Feeding

Tub grinding hay or crop residues increases feed cost but reduces waste, enhances consumption and facilitates mixing with silages and concentrates or supplement. Some long-stemmed forage should be offered to stimulate rumination and prevent compaction. Generally, coproduct feeds do not need processing. Grains, however, should be rolled or ground to increase digestibility as the typical high-forage cow ration has a high rate of passage through the gut and provides less resident time for larger grain particles to digest. Rations can be fed once per day, bunk space permitting. Twice daily feeding of drylot cows has not been evaluated. Some producers successfully have used self-feeding gates or electric fences to self-feed silage or hay; however, controlling consumption is difficult. Winter feeding on frozen ground with or without snow cover is acceptable if feed is placed on clean ground every day. This practice will facilitate distribution of manure during aftermath grazing.

Creep Feed

Calves in the drylot should be offered creep feed beginning at 2 months of age. Moderate energy rations should be offered to reduce overfattening, especially in heifer calves. Chopped mixed hay and feed grains (rolled or coarsely ground field peas, barley, corn) or selected coproducts have been used successfully in mixed creep diets. Commercial pelleted diets are more convenient and cost more per ton. Malt barley pellets and wheat midds are useful as creep feed when mixed with corn, given equivalent prices. Creep feed consumption increases to approximately 8 to 10 pounds per head per day at 160 days of age. Creep pastures are recommended if grassed areas are available adjacent to the drylot. Using creep pastures reduces creep feed consumption, provides an improved environment and increases weaning weights in research at NDSU-Carrington.

Early Weaning

Early weaning is easier with drylot cows and can reduce cow feed costs while maintaining calf growth. Creep feeding is highly recommended prior to early weaning calves. Weaning drylot calves amounts to removing cows from the pen, with calves remaining in familiar facilities with water and creep feed available. Highly palatable, nutrient-dense mixed diets containing grains, coproducts, excellent-quality forages and supplements, such as yeast, are recommended. Either fence line separation of the cows or total removal from the area can be practiced. After weaning anxiety is passed, cows can be turned out on small-grain stubble, nonfarmable lowlands and later corn residue. Early weaning allows cows to regain condition before winter, plus provides a longer time to graze crop aftermath.

Herd Health

Health problems experienced in the drylot are generally the same as those occurring in pasture/range operations. However, in a poorly designed and poorly managed operation, the drylot can be a hot, crowded, dusty or muddy, fly-infested environment. A well-drained or paved site with a southern exposure and periodic manure removal reduces environmental stress. The high density of animals is conducive to spreading infections, so prompt, thorough treatment with appropriate follow-up is in order. Normal vaccinations and deworming are recommended. Consult your local veterinarian for specific recommendations. Foot rot can be a problem once established on the site, so prompt treatment is appropriate. Other problems that may be associated with drylot cows and calves are hairballs in calves and compaction in cows. These are very infrequent occurrences, however. Hairballs can be mitigated by providing high-quality forage and creep feed separately to young calves to dilute ingested hair from shedding cows. Compaction is more likely to occur in cows fed large amounts of chopped straw without long hay or significant amounts of silage or other moist feeds.

Fly Control

Regular manure removal, especially during rainy summers, is important in controlling the fly population. Aggressive spraying of the premises with residual sprays, providing cows and calves with dust bags and rubs, and placing insecticide ear tags in the cows are all helpful. Wasps have been used successfully in isolated livestock operations. Feed additives that kill fly larvae in the manure can be helpful if all animals in the area receive the product. No single practice should be relied on as the sole fly control method.

Breeding and Selection

Estrus synchronization and artificial insemination are easier with cows in drylot. The concentration of cows in a small area allows faster and easier heat detection than in pastures or on the open range. Androgenized cows or sterilized bulls are useful for assisting in heat detection in the drylot. Natural-service sires used in the drylot can service 10 percent to 25 percent more cows due to repeated contacts and less distance to travel. Proven bulls with good libido should be used to take advantage of the increased exposure.

A breeding plan should be developed using breeds that are acceptable to the producer and to the market. Systematic crossbreeding involving two or three breeds in rotation works well in drylot, but needs to be sustained with heifer selection and breeding back to the most unrelated breed of sire. Performance records are easier to keep in drylot with daily observation of individual animals. Selecting replacement females is easier and more accurate with good performance records. Weighing, tagging, vaccinating and treating animals are all much easier in drylot than on the open range.

Herd Size

An economical size for a drylot cow/calf operation has not been well-defined. Breeding systems with two or three breed rotations impose some minimum cow numbers on the enterprise. For example, a three-way rotation should have a minimum of 120 to 150 cows to make the best use of herd sires while maximizing heterosis. Larger herds may be more efficient due to economies of scale, but logistics and labor need to be addressed. Smaller herds of 50 to 100 cows may be economically feasible, depending on the producer’s equipment, feed sources, facilities, labor and marketing goals.


Drylot provides greater marketing flexibility for both cows and calves. Prospective buyers can inspect feeder calves more easily. Reduced weaning stress and faster adaptation to feedlot rations are important merchandising points. Calves are more accessible, so market timing is flexible. Cull or open cows can be fed longer if cheap feeds are available for improved return at slaughter or auction. Calves kept for feedlot finishing go on feed extremely well and may finish with higher marbling scores due to reduced stress and a longer feeding period. Red Angus-based steers at the Carrington Research Extension Center have been marketed at 1,225 pounds at less than 1 year of age and graded up to 75 percent USDA Choice or better. Having both spring and fall calving herds in one operation complicates management, but may provide more marketing windows and a consistent supply of beef if a finishing feedlot is included in the operation. Vertically integrated enterprises may market locally recognized, natural or organic meat through a local locker plant at premium prices.

Facilities and Equipment

Site Selection

The site chosen for a cow/calf drylot facility should be well-drained with appropriate pollution controls to avoid contaminating watersheds. Wintering quarters for gestating cows may need to be upgraded to control runoff. Check with state and county officials to determine permitting requirements. Site selection should be based on water availability, roads, slope of the land and soil type, proximity to neighbors, drainage, wind direction and odor. These are physical and operational criteria that can affect quality of life and relationships in the neighborhood. The reader is referred to the “Midwest Plan Service Beef Housing and Equipment Handbook” (fourth edition, 1987) available from your county Extension office for facilities recommendations and critical design dimensions.

Number of Pens

Separate pens are suggested for (1) first-calf heifers and old or thin cows, (2) the main cow herd with multiple pens if numbers require, (3) growing replacement heifer calves and (4) bulls, possibly two pens for young and old bulls. Large numbers of pairs in one pen make sorting for artificial insemination (AI) or health care difficult. Excessive crowding from severe weather, wild animals or other circumstances can result in injury or death to small calves. Sixty to 80 pairs per pen is the recommended maximum, but this will vary with space allotment and pen design.

Pen Design

Pen size and lot space per cow/calf pair are quite variable, depending on the drainage and soil type. A general recommendation is for a minimum of 500 square feet per pair, with 800 to 1,000 square feet desirable, especially with less than optimum drainage. Larger lots tend to allow more blowing dirt, a potential cause of pneumonia for baby calves. Partially paved areas may be useful around waterers and bunk lines, and for relatively flat lots. Smaller paved areas (300 to 500 square feet per pair) increase crowding but may reduce fly problems and muddy cows, especially if paved areas are scraped often.


Fencing for the drylot should be sturdy, low-maintenance and able to withstand the stress of mature cows crowding and reaching. Used railroad ties, treated posts and steel pipe are long-lasting and low-maintenance. Steel cables or metal rod, such as well stem, sucker rod or pipe, are excellent for fencing. Mesh panels and lumber fences require more maintenance and will need replacement at much shorter intervals. Panels tend to get pushed out of shape in high-stress areas. Full-dimension rough lumber is preferred over smooth boards but often is warped and full of knots. High-tensile electric fence or barbed wire can be used successfully but requires frequent tightening. High-tensile fence is subject to penetration from crowding or frightened animals, requiring time-consuming sorting of animals. If animals put pressure on a fence, running an electric wire along the inside or the top of the fence may be necessary. Fences should be a minimum of 60 inches tall, especially if larger cows or animals of questionable disposition are involved.


If shade is constructed, 40 square feet per cow/calf is recommended. Cows made very limited use of the pole-framed corn-cribbing shade available at the Carrington Research Extension Center. Dual-purpose, shade/windbreak-designed, self-supporting structures may be useful equipment for beef cows in the northern Plains.

Feed Bunks

A variety of feed bunks works for cows. Mixed rations can be fed in fence line feed bunks or feeding fences designed without bunks. Feeding in bunks within pens is possible but mud and gate management can be problems. Feeders that can be placed inside pens include turned tractor tires, commercial metal or wood bunks, salvaged wide conveyor belting pulled up to a “u” shape or other containers. Round bale feeders or forage racks on a trailer chassis are useful for feeding free-choice forages. Some feeders are more wasteful than others. Each cow should have 26 to 30 inches of bunk space if rations are limit-fed. Cow rations are usually very bulky, so a high-capacity bunk is recommended. With fence line bunks, a concrete apron behind the bunk allows firm footing for the cows and easy cleaning. This apron should be 10 feet to 12 feet wide and slope one-half inch per foot. Feeding on the ground is not recommended, even with large pens, as feed easily can become contaminated with feces and feed waste increases dramatically when feed is offered in this fashion.


Water requirements of lactating cows in the summer are much greater than gestating animals. Lactating cows need up to 20 gallons of water per day. Tanks or water fountains may be adequate. The large reservoir of a tank allows more cows to drink in a shorter time, but cleaning large tanks can be difficult. Water should be accessible to young calves as well. A backup well or secondary water source is highly recommended.

Creep Feeding

Creep gates with adjustable vertical bars and openings 17 inches to 18 inches wide are most effective in providing access for calves but not cows. Creep feeders should be placed in well-drained areas easily accessible to calves, preferably along the opening to the creep pasture. Large-volume feeders have been designed for mixed grain-forage rations that can be filled with a feed wagon, front-end loader or large-diameter augers. Creep feeder space is not extremely critical. A minimum of 4 inches per head is suggested, with calves tending to eat in shifts, provided feed flows down adequately. Small fence line bunks may be used for calves but require more frequent filling.

Feed Storage

Feed storage should be close to the drylot. Bunker silos are cost-effective for large volumes of silage. Upright concrete stave silos and oxygen-limiting systems represent high capital investment items that could reduce labor but should be evaluated critically for positive economic returns in a beef cow/calf or feedlot enterprise. Returns from hay storage sheds depend heavily on a number of factors, including market price of hay and cattle, rainfall, bulk density of the hay package, original quality of the hay and length of storage. One- or two-year-old hay or straw is typically more digestible than new forage, although most Vitamin A is lost and some dry-matter loss occurs due to ground contact or weathering.

Waste Management and Composting

The economic value of manure from a confined cow operation depends on how it is handled and relative fertilizer prices. Incorporation of straw for bedding or from wasted feed improves the carbon-nitrogen ratio and sequesters much more nitrogen in the composted manure. Composting manure stabilizes and concentrates the nutrients, resulting in less total volume to be spread but more fertilizer value per unit. Composting can be done inside the pen or manure removed and “windrowed” for processing by a composting machine. Composting is a microbial process that converts organic wastes into stable, sanitary humuslike material that is an excellent fertilizer. Optimum moisture content for composting is 50 percent to 60 percent. A few weeks after piling, when the internal temperature has reached 130 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, “rolling the pile over” with a composting turner or front-end loader and letting it start over is appropriate. The repeated turning assures more thorough composting of manure and bedding material and destroys weed seeds. The heating, or “thermophilic” phase, is repeated two to three times with normally a sequential reduction in temperature. This phase is followed by about two months of curing, or “mesophilic” phase, when turning should continue at less frequent intervals. Ideally, composted or fresh manure should be tilled into the soil just after spreading. Beef cows produce about 63 pounds of fresh manure per day. Accumulations from drylot cows on paved lots from May 1 through Sept. 15 average 1.75 tons to 2 tons of dry matter, depending on cow size, ration digestibility and milk production of the cow. Beef cattle manure from an open feedlot at 50 percent dry matter is estimated to contain approximately 7 pounds of ammonium nitrate, 21 pounds of total nitrogen (N), 14 pounds of P205 (phosphorus) and 23 pounds of K20 (soluble potash) per ton of raw manure. The value of organic matter and micro-minerals are harder to determine but can add measurably to the productively of the land. The manure should be analyzed for N, P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) and spreading be done according to permit and crop fertility recommendations.

References and further reading

Anderson, V.L. 2002. Sunflower screenings, barley malt or wheat midds in lactating beef cow diets. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 25:33-36.

Anderson, Vern, and Blaine Schatz. 2002. Biological and economic synergies of integrating beef cows and field crops. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 25:38-41.

Anderson, V.L., and E.J. Bock. 2000. Potato coproduct as a feed source for lactating mature beef cows and first calf heifers. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 23:12-13.

Anderson, V.L., and E.J. Bock. 2000. Sclerotinia-infected sunflowers as a feed source for pregnant and non-pregnant mature beef cows. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 23:14-15.

Anderson, V.L. 1998. Performance of primiparous lactating drylot beef cows on crop residue and processing coproducts. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 21:1-4.

Anderson, V.L., E.W. Boland and H.H. Casper. 1995. The effects of vomitoxin (DON) from scab-infested barley fed to gestating and lactating heifers. Beef Production Field Day Proceedings. NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. Volume 18:11-12.

Boyles, S.L., R.S. Sell and D.L. Watt. 1992. Adding an alternative livestock enterprise to a grain farm. J. Prod. Ag. 5:422.

Lardy, G.P., and V.L. Anderson. 2003. Alternative feeds for ruminants. NDSU Cooperative Extension Service. AS-1182. 23 pages.

Lardy, G.P., and V.L. Anderson. 2002. Canola and sunflower meal in beef cattle diets. Vet Clin Food Anim 18:327-338.

Loerch, S.C. 1996. Limited-feeding corn as an alternative to hay for gestating beef cows. J. Anim. Sci. 74:1211-1216.

MWPS-6 Midwest Plan Service Beef Housing and Equipment Handbook. 1987. Fourth edition.

Sell R.S., D.L. Watt and S.L. Boyles. 1993. The economics of a low input drylot cow/calf operation integrated with a minimum till or conventional grain farm. Prof. Anim. Sci. 9:20.

Ward, E H., H.H. Patterson and R.J. Pruitt. 2004. Response of gestating beef cows to limit-fed diets containing rolled barley. Proc. Western Sec. Amer. Soc. of Anim. Sci. P. 22-24.

Reviewed and printed March 2013

Ohio State University Extension

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