The All-In Livestock Barn
Monoslope barns offer new ‘slant’ on raising cattle.
By Des Keller | Photos By Christy Couch Lee
One of the biggest reasons the Gronewold family of Carthage, Illinois, has been able to add son, Ashton, and son-in-law, Evan Davidson, to their operation is the addition of a monoslope cattle barn. The building and the 150 animals it shelters have generated more income without the expense of having to purchase or rent additional pasture.
The monoslope, to some extent, functions in similar fashion to confinement facilities for pigs or poultry. The idea is the animals are more efficiently fed, eat better, are healthier, less stressed and better protected from the elements in a shelter. The monoslope differs from pig or poultry facilities in that it is really a slanted roof with sides partially or completely open to facilitate ventilation and reduce the impact of weather on the herd.
“We love it,” says Ashton of the 100-foot-wide and 252-foot-long facility with three separate pens. “For one thing, fly control is easier. The wind sweeps through the barn pushing flies away—and we know all the animals are getting fly-control medication via their mineral rations.” In large pastures, it isn’t certain that every animal is getting to the minerals.
Feed is portioned into bunks on either side of the barn, rather than dumped on the ground, where it can be trampled and wasted. With the animals under roof, manure stays dry and out of the sun—two factors that otherwise contribute greatly to odor. The manure is mixed with chopped corn stalks and spread on the farm’s fields as fertilizer.
“The manure is a huge benefit,” says Gronewold family patriarch, Merlin. “We didn’t necessarily calculate the manure as an income source in planning for the monoslope barn … given its fertilizer value, but that’s what it essentially is.” For example, one 8-acre hayfield that only produced 10 bales previously yielded 56 bales following fertilization with the corn stalk-cattle manure mix, he says.
There also is also a lot to be said for being able to check on a large number of cattle all at once, rather than driving around acres of pasture in the dark. “I can turn on the light at 10 p.m. and check on 150 cows,” Merlin explains. “We pick up on sicknesses right away. The animals are calving under one roof, so I don’t have calves in the bottom of ditches or in a creek.”
Roughly half of the Gronewold herd spends 5 to 6 months under the monoslope, from breeding through calving. Eventually, the mommas and calves are turned out to pasture, and the other half of the herd is brought into the shelter for calving season. Davidson handles the bulk of the cattle chores during the week, while the Gronewolds have weekend duty.
“We still have to be there to bring the feed to the animals,” Ashton says, “but that effort is still cheaper and a more viable option than buying pastureland at $3,500-$5,000 per acre.”