What may be the future of the cattle industry in Illinois was on display on Aug. 8 near Camp Point.
Jacob Schmidt keeps cattle in a hoop barn designed for calving, backgrounding and finishing -- a system providing benefits for the cattle, the farmer and the environment.
"I really think the future of the cattle industry is moving to these buildings," Schmidt said. "We are seeing better efficiency in the cow herd in the hoop barn. The cows are very gentle and comfortable and don't burn energy to find food and water."
Unlike keeping cows outside in dry lots and wooded areas, the hoop barn helps Schmidt improve feed efficiency, provide a better environment for calving, better utilize manure which saves money on fertilizer and raise more cows on fewer acres.
"It's harder and harder to find pasture as we look at growing beef and growing beef numbers, so this makes a lot of sense," said Tim Maiers, who helped plan an open house at the barn coordinated by the Illinois Livestock Development Group. "There's a lot of opportunity for Illinois specifically and the Midwest in this type of system. We have the feedstuffs, we have land to put the manure on, we've got good quality cattle here, especially in this area, so there's a lot of positives."
Schmidt and his wife Alicia just wanted a better way to raise Angus crossbred cattle close to his home -- and friends, neighbors and fellow farmers got to take a closer look at the barn and the latest technologies for cattle comfort and environmental stewardship.
The first-generation farmer, now 30 years old, started renting pasture right out of high school, working on his neighbor Brent Obert's cattle operation in exchange for use of machinery, then started renting cropland after graduating from Western Illinois University.
Today, Schmidt and Obert are partners in the cattle business. Schmidt farms 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, owns and operates Schmidt Agri-Consulting specializing in soil sampling and built the hoop barn on his own with cost-share financial assistance through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Building the barn to state and federal standards was worth it, Schmidt said.
"It's peace of mind to have everything in line," Schmidt said. "I built the thing right, did it the way it was supposed to be done."
The 52x352-foot Britespan barn large enough for 250 cattle features a galvanized steel frame and plastic cover with a 16-year warranty. Schmidt said the multipurpose shed has five pens, a large area in the middle for calving and a manure storage area.
Airflow in the open-style building keeps cattle cool in the summer months while helping to control flies and, by adding a curtain on the north side and closing a door, warm in the winter.
Feed bunks along with side provide easy access for the cattle, which go to market a month earlier weighing 100 pounds heavier while consuming 10 bushels less corn compared to an outside lot.
"People say a cow is made to be outside, but with all the positive benefits about this barn, I would disagree," Schmidt said. "I really plan on putting up another one eventually. It's been a great thing."
And it's even better for Schmidt's daughters Addiley, 2½, and Alivia, 6 months.
"Addiley likes the cows, likes to see the new calves, and I'm excited for her to do that," he said. "It's just nice we were able to put the building up right here at the house for calving. It's so much closer, a lot more convenient for us."