Living In Reality—Controlling Dust…

I am a die-hard realist.  I have always trended that way, but the last 15 years of raising cattle and managing a feed yard in Nebraska has cemented that tendency.  It is not that I do not have lofty aspirations and goals; it is simply that I live in a world of practical implementation.

When everything that you do is tied in with Mother Nature, you learn to take what you get and then try to mold it into what you want.  I manage my cattle feed yard with the promise of offering optimal care for my animals and producing the highest quality of beef.  I also strive to ensure that my farm remains environmentally sustainable.

My promise…

The weather can be both my greatest ally and my biggest foe.  My animals live outdoors in dirt based pens.  One of our top priorities is to keep their living conditions comfortable.  We frequently clean the pens to prevent manure build up—the manure is then spread on our crop ground to ensure good soil health.

Matt’s manure truck spreading manure produced by my cattle onto farm ground that needs added nutrients to stay healthy…

Despite our hard work, there are times when pen conditions are not what I want them to be.  Sometimes during wet periods we struggle to dry the pens out to eliminate mud and sometimes during dry periods we search for ways to control dust.

This year is dusty.  In fact, it has not been this dusty for almost a decade.  I dislike dust because it can create health issues for my cattle.  Dust pneumonia is an added challenge during drought years.  While the dust in a feed yard is usually worse than the dust on pasture ground, this year it is so dry that the dust blows off of the pasture and farm ground with just as much abundance as the gravel roads and my cattle pens.

This pen in the background is full of newly arrived cattle. You can see the dust that blows when they run around and play…

As a cattle caregiver, it is my job to figure out how to control the dust at my feed yard so that my cattle can maintain optimal health.  An effective way to do this is to cross fence the pens.  This decreases the living space for the cattle by half and allows the animals to pack down the dirt and eliminate the worst of the dust.

If you look closely you can see the white temporary fence that keeps the cattle up in the front half of the pen to try and control the dust.

Cross fencing my cattle pens is a far from perfect answer to the problem.  While the obvious positive outcome of cross fencing is managing the dust in the pens, there are drawbacks to doing this.  The first drawback is that the cattle have less room to play and interact.  The second drawback is that it is more difficult to keep the pens clean of manure, and good pen cleaning is a more laborious process.

When I make the decision whether or not to cross fence, I have to weigh the pros and cons.  I know that there is not a perfect answer, so I must go with the best one given the circumstances.  My top priority is to keep my cattle healthy because I know that healthy cattle make healthy beef.  That priority drives my decision.

I think of my girls when I make decisions—they are eating the beef that I grow. I also try to teach them critical thinking skills so that one day they might come up with a better way to control the dust that plagues us in Nebraska during those dry years!

I am hopeful that we will receive some rain soon, and I will be able to take the cross fences out of my pens.  As we move later into the fall, the days become shorter and there are fewer “drying hours” which should also help.  In the meantime, I continue to take what I get from Mother Nature and do my best to mold it into something that both  I and my cattle can live with…

3 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

3 responses to “Living In Reality—Controlling Dust…

  1. Tim Johns

    Good luck with the dust issue. I never realized the many concerns a rancher has. Are these issues typical of all feed yard operators?

    • Hi Tim,

      Mother Nature seems to throw all kinds of challenges at us, and I would say that they are pretty universal for cattle farmers and feed yard operators. I never realized how much went into caring for animals until I moved to our farm and went to work at the feed yard. Life is never dull!

      Thanks for reading–stay tuned for more!
      Anne

  2. Rex

    This year has been a tremendous challenge for pneumonia. We had our cows in three herds on pasture. One day, we had to treatt every calf in one of the herds for pneumonia before we could precondition them. One of the neighbors harvested a field of seed potatoes for a week: the county road is now mostly gone and the dust coats grass for a nundred yards beyond the right of way. Our calves are now weaned and are grazing a cover crop over a half mile from the road. We have finally slowed down to 1/3% sick calves a day.

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