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Lepley Farms finds balance in growing herd and compliance with new barn

By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net

For a few years now, Dave Lepley has been contemplating expanding his Huron County cattle herd. He knew he wanted to grow the number of head on his farm, but if he was going to take a big step in that direction, he wanted to do it the right way.

“We had a bed-pack dry lot with about 300 head and as we did research for expansion we came across the idea for this new cattle barn,” Lepley said. “We wanted to comply with a lot of different things. We had to have cattle comfort, we had to have compliance with EPA rules because of our proximity to Lake Erie so we wanted to be sure that as we built our herd size we could house them all in one facility.”

The result is a 101-foot by 321-foot by16-foot indoor feedlot facility in Bellevue permitted to hold 1,000 head of cattle.

“We traveled to many states and toured many barns and decided to go with a gable roof barn,” Lepley said. “It has a full liner underneath the pit so we can hold at least 400 days worth of manure so we can apply our nutrients when we can versus when we have to. In the spring, it typically stays wetter, longer in this region. We do have our dry periods in August and September but the crops are still in the field, so we have to push our manure hauling away from the wintertime and early spring when it is so wet to fall. There was really no way we could build a dry pack manure holding facility. We knew if we were going to expand we were going to have to hold liquid manure.”

The pit is 12 feet deep and the eaves are 16 feet high so air flow, one of the items of Lepley’s wish list for expansion, is not a problem. Good nutrition was also on that list.

“We are on a higher fiber ration. We use silage, wet distillers’ grain, cracked corn and a supplement,” Lepley said. “For our current herd, the barn average is eating about 46 pounds per head, per day. Our rate of gain is about 3,000 pounds of meat a day for just over 1,000 head. You can tell they are happy when that is happening.”

Part of that happiness comes from another feature of Lepley’s new barn — all of the pens are lined with rubber.

“You hear a lot of stories about livestock facilities before the rubber was put on the slats about how uncomfortable the cattle were,” Lepley said. “Our experience with our first cattle in this barn was that they arrived at 380 pounds and we didn’t have any issues with legs and they were comfortable until they were ready for market.”

And Lepley says he is hoping this new facility will bring some comfort to those living around his area as well.

“We are trying to be the best neighbors and the best stewards of the land that we can be,” Lepley said. “With Lake Erie being so close we are really focused on that. We work closely with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. They come and tour our facility at least twice a year. We have a monitoring well for all ground waters around here. We send our samples in and things come back looking really good.”

The barn was constructed by Summit Livestock Facilities and their beef specialist Mike Schluttenhofer has been a part of the process since day 1.

“This barn is all designed around air flow and sunlight,” Schluttenhofer said. “It’s broken into eight pens and it has a valley down the center for feed and the pit extends 10 feet past the south side of the barn to add a little bit more holding capacity.”

Barns like the one on Lepley’s farm are also very beneficial when it comes to putting together a Crop Nutrient Management Plan.

“When the manure is taken out of the pit and put onto the fields, they are able to track how much is put on each field so that they can cut down on the leaching of nutrients into the creeks, Schluttenhofer said.

These types of facilities are becoming more common across the countryside as Ohio cattlemen work to protect the environment and maximize the returns on their investment.

“There is a lot more indoor cattle feeding going on now with new regulations,” Schluttenhofer said. “It’s getting to be a pretty popular idea to control your manure and feed cattle inside. It is just a more efficient way to run a livestock operation. It’s a way to increase revenue without picking up extra acres of ground, which are hard to get these days.”

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