By Laura Miller, Iowa State University
A recent survey shows that hoop barns for beef cattle production are becoming more common in Iowa, offering benefits for the environment.
The survey was conducted by Mark Honeyman, interim director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Animal Science, and Jay Harmon, professor in ISU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.
Honeyman and Harmon are both members of the “Hoop Group,” a team of ISU researchers that originally focused on the benefits of feeding or housing pigs in hoop barns. A survey conducted in 2001 showed that Iowa farmers rapidly adopted the new method, using hoop barns to raise more than a million pigs annually.
In 2004 the Hoop Group turned its attention to cattle, building a pilot hoop barn with a competitive grant from the Leopold Center. The new survey, completed in December 2010, found that Iowa has about 680 hoop barns for beef cattle. The majority—83 percent—are used for feeding beef cattle in bedded confinement, following the model developed by the Hoop Group. The researchers estimate that hoop barns account for about 15 percent of the beef cattle fed in Iowa annually.
Hoop barns offer similar cattle performance to conventional feedlots with shelters. However, hoop barns minimize runoff because cattle are kept under a curved roof that deflects rain. Livestock producers may be shifting to hoop barns to help meet regulations or mitigate water quality concerns.
The survey results are available at http://www.ag.iastate.edu/farms/10reports/McNay/IowaHoopStructures.pdf. You can also download a fact sheet developed by the Iowa Beef Center at http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/Docs_feedlot/hoopbarnfactsheet.pdf.