NDSA hosts feedlot tour
July 21, 2014
The North Dakota Stockmen's Association (NDSA) hosted their 12th annual feedlot tour in the Mandan area on June 17. The event originally began with the idea of helping producers gain compliance with state and federal regulations through seeing firsthand how other feeders successfully made the necessary transitions, and has gained popularity and attendance over time for the plethora of practical ideas it also provides.
"Whether you feed 5,000 head or 100 head, you have facilities, a holding pond, and herd management to think about. There are water tanks, windbreaks, bunks and a solid separator to be considered. This tour has evolved into something where people bring cameras, tape measures and notepads to measure, visit and capture ideas to take home and tweak for their own facilities to improve their function," explained NDSA Environmental Services Director Scott Ressler of the truly hands-on learning opportunity that producers gain through attending the tour.
Third-year tour participant Rodney Schatz is among those who now attend in order to ultimately make the most efficient and well-invested improvements to his own feeding operation.
"The first year I went for the heck of it. I can't feed in my current yard unless the ground is frozen it's so soupy. I wanted to see how other feedlots were designed, and those that have been updated are all so nicely sloped and dry. Now I have decided to improve my own facility from a 120-head lot to a 700-head lot as a means of expanding my operation without purchasing additional land. I also hope to eliminate the need for my wife to commute 60-miles one-way to work and my sons the opportunity to work on the place should they so choose," explained Schatz of the major changes attending the tour has resulted in for the future of his operation.
He added that seeing effective feedlot setups in person was far more helpful than trying to envision what he would do on paper, and a huge asset in designing a functional lot.
"I have learned a lot about water drainage, that everyone who put in 8-foot bunk pads wishes they had gone with 12-foot pads, and that for my operation a 16-18 foot alley would likely work best. I also met a guy out of Kansas who does feedlot corralling. I was planning to do that myself and it was going to cost me $10-11/foot, but he does a much nicer job than I can at a cost of $14/foot. For $3/foot I can't afford to not have him do it, and I made that connection through the tour," explained Schatz.
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John Steckler was among the 2104 feedlot tour hosts, and said that he too benefited greatly from touring other facilities prior to updating his own.
"There are so many little things that make a difference. One that comes to mind is I saw a lot of 90-degree cement feed and water pad corners that had the ground worn away under the corners. I did my corners at 45-degree angles after seeing that, and even on the pretty good grade I have that has helped a lot in reducing the wearing out of corners and keeping our concrete solid," he explained.
Another critical aspect for Steckler was a creek that ran right beside his feedlot. If he was going to expand and invest, he wanted to be sure it wasn't into something that he would be required to move or abandon in a few years due to state or federal regulation changes.
"Another aspect of the tour and working with Scott Ressler is you learn about the cost share programs they have available to help you do things right from a regulation standpoint. I figured I might as well use that to enable myself to update things once and ensure they weren't going to be out of compliance a few years later," noted Stecker.
The NDSA is the only state livestock association in the country with an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Section 319 funded livestock facility improvement program, which they use to aid producers in upgrading feedlot operations to get them into EPA compliance.
"Our EPA Section 319 funds are set aside specifically for feedlot compliance upgrades. We do a cost share program we call the Stewardship Support Program that allows us to get $175,000 of those federal funds to put toward producer improvements based on a contractual agreement with that producer," explained Ressler.
To-date, the Stewardship Support Program has put $5.2 million dollars of state and federal assistance into helping producers upgrade their feeding facilities, many of which are featured in each year's tour. This is an added benefit and learning opportunity for tour attendees, and one they don't take lightly.
"I figure that there is money out there for improvements, and when it's all said and done I hope to complete it for less than a new piece of machinery would cost me. That makes it a very viable way to expand in my case," noted Schatz of what the combination of potential cost share dollars and learning from others has done for his expansion opportunities.
He isn't alone in his thinking. Ressler noted this year's event was the most popular in its history with over 200 people attending.
"I think the attendance speaks for itself. We talk about the cattle feeding industry in North Dakota and ask if it's vibrant and is there producer interest? I sure think there is interest and the desire to add value to owned calves or through feeding purchased or neighbor's calves. Northern cattle prove time and again they're among the most highly profitable and sought after cattle in the country, and these producers are working to capture that added value that comes through feeding cattle in that class," concluded Ressler of the value found not only in feeding northern cattle, but in taking a day each year to see firsthand how friends and neighbors are successfully feeding while being in full state and federal regulation compliance.
For more information on the feedlot tour please contact Scott Ressler at 701-223-2522.