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Published June 25, 2015, 09:32 AM

Alexandria, S.D., farm one of first to implement monoslope style

A happy cow is a productive cow. Doug Weber and his family, owners and operators of Weber Farm and Feedlot in Alexandria, are the proud owners of one of South Dakota’s first monoslope cattle barns, which they showed off on Tuesday night at an open house.

By: Caitlynn Peetz , Forum News Service

ALEXANDRIA, S.D. — A happy cow is a productive cow.

Doug Weber and his family, owners and operators of Weber Farm and Feedlot in Alexandria, are the proud owners of one of South Dakota’s first monoslope cattle barns, which they showed off on Tuesday night at an open house.

The barn, designed with a roof with a single slant to one side, lies east to west on the Weber's property. According to Weber, the barn boasts a multitude of benefits for the 950 cows it houses, leaving its inhabitants happier and more productive than when roaming open fields. Namely, the cows are more comfortable.

“They're kind of glad to be in the barn,” Weber says. “When they were outside, we'd get close to them and they'd run away. They were always huddled in the corners trying to fight the flies and heat. Now, they're in the shade, they're approachable and calm.”

The barn's direction and the slope of the roof provide shade and notable airflow through the barn for the cattle in the summer months, and also allows the winter sun into the building.

“These barns always run east to west for these reasons — the airflow and sun availability. It's pretty simple but effective,” Nic Rowe, engineer from Pro Ag Engineering and the head of the barn's construction, says.

Along with the roof, what's below the surface of the 433-foot-long barn is equally as important to its success and efficiency.

Underneath lies a 12-foot-deep pit that accumulates and stores up to a year's worth of manure, which is later used as fertilizer for surrounding fields.

“You get more nutrients from this, because those nutrients are all contained to the pit,” says John Lentz, resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “They don't get lost in rainfall and in the elements.”

There is a small creek that flows through the farmland, which increased the amount of manure lost. When there was significant rainfall, it would drain to the creek, pulling usable manure with it.

“We live real close to a creek here, and in our outside lots, whenever it would rain, manure would wash towards the creek,” Weber says. “So the NRCS has this program to shut our old lots down and set up a barn like this to keep from losing that manure. We figured it was a good investment.”

The manure runoff also provoked questions about the effects it was having on the creek's water quality, making the problem everyones in the surrounding area.

So, the Webers spent the next six months revamping their farm, installing the barn, planting trees for shelter and implementing other conservation practices to address resource concerns. Construction was completed in November.

The family, along with the NRCS, developed a plan for how the excess manure stored will be used in the future.

“We developed what is called a comprehensive nutrient management plan,” Lentz says. “That is not only how we're going to store the manure and contain it and keep it from running off, but when it comes time to apply it, how do we do that in a responsible manner?”

Even though the monoslope barn method has benefits that seemingly outweigh those of the open lot system, Lentz noted that the cost differential can be staggering.

“It is a big investment, there's no doubt about that,” Lentz says. “It takes a lot of money to put something like this up, so maybe some producers aren't in a financial situation to have a barn like this.”

He adds that, because the technology is so new, there is a chance that some agricultural producers haven't even heard of the technology yet, noting the Weber Farm and Feedlot is “one of the first three or four barns of its kind in South Dakota.”

The Webers did much of the legwork and provided a significant portion of the funds used to redesign their farm, but they did have some help. They received funding from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, a federal fund used to help producers install environmentally or agriculturally friendly practices.

“EQUIP funds give producers a little incentive to do things like this,” Lentz says. “But Doug does have an awful lot of his own money in this as well, so it's kind of a combination effort.”

Weber Farm and Feedlot relies heavily on the Weber family — primarily Doug, his wife and their four children, aged 5 to 13, along with Doug's brother, Chuck Weber, and his wife, Kathy — to keep business running smoothly. Weber said there is little hired or outside help. Every day, the family feeds the cattle and ensures they're all healthy, along with maintaining the upkeep of the barn and farmland, so the efficiency that the monoslope barn provides is essential to maintaining the highest level of productivity possible.

“We use half of the equipment that we did in the open lot system,” Weber says. “It saves time and is a lot more efficient, and that helps us out a lot.”