Hip-deep in trouble
Before you see the muck at Mike Beneke’s feedlot, you can smell it.
A stench, putrid and stagnant, hangs oppressively in the hot air as clustered cattle bawl.
A truck arrives, kicking up dust on a path outside the lot’s pen as it pours feed. Calves wait and then struggle, panting, as they wade through a chest-deep lagoon of manure and mud to reach the trough.
Six months of bad weather and bad luck at Double B Cattle in Lincolnville have left Beneke wondering whether he will be able to clean up his lot.
“For me, horrible is normal,” he said.
A wet, cold winter followed by an extremely wet spring has left his feeder cattle half buried as he struggles with mud like many cattle feeders in the county. And he hasn’t been able to do much about it.
When the lot turned to muck this winter Beneke wanted to push it out of the pens, but it froze for three weeks.
Drenching spring rains made matters worse. A creek runs through Beneke’s property, so flooding has been a problem.
“I got the corn planted, but a lot of it got washed away,” he said. “What I thought was going to be a beautiful cornfield looks like s___.”
He was hoping to spread accumulated manure on his fields when the ground dried, but that didn’t happen. Instead, his cattle are wading through chest- and neck-deep pools.
Floodwater carried logs and other trash onto his land, but it’s been too wet to get into the field to clean it up.
“I’ve been through several bad times,” he said, “but I think this one tops them all.”
Last weekend, both of his feed trucks broke down, and he has had to borrow a neighbor’s truck until his trucks are fixed.
Beneke has a bad knee that makes it hard to get around.
“It’s wearing on you,” Beneke said. “I’m seriously considering giving it up. I’m 60, and there’s things I can’t do anymore. I thought I could make it to 70, but I don’t think I can.”
He’s frustrated and doesn’t know what to do next.
“How do I set priorities?” he said. “It’s really hard to keep a positive attitude. Ten days of dry weather would help.”
If the lot ever dries out enough to move the manure, he plans to deposit it in piles for spreading.
Other large feedlots in the county also are struggling with mud and water.
Concrete platforms behind bunks at the John Hajek feedlot at Tampa have helped the men get through the May rains.
A big drop-off behind the concrete, has emerged where the dirt washed away or mud was pushed away, John’s son Alex said. They plan to fill the drop-off with rock screenings.
Hajek said mud in their lot was 1 ½ feet deep in places. They tried to clean some dirt mounds off to give cattle space to lie down.
Kansas State University extension specialist Dale Blasi said the school’s feedlot at Manhattan also was a muddy mess.
“We are slowly and surely digging out of the mud,” he said.
Blasi viewed pictures of Benke’s cattle and said in an email that they appear to be healthy, but “feed efficiency could be severely affected.”
A study showed that muddy conditions reduced cattle’s daily gains 25 to 37 percent and increased the feed required per pound of gain 20 to 33 percent, he said.
“Extra maintenance energy is required of the animal to allow it to move in a muddy environment,” he said. “Thus, extra energy intended for live weight gain is sequestered for maintenance rather than muscle/fat deposition,” he said.
The study noted that cattle lose heat because mud-laden hides don’t insulate as well. Cattle also use up energy trying to pull their hooves out of the mud, are unable to lie down and rest, and lose weight because they become unwilling to fight through mud to reach their feed troughs,.
Blasi said he was not trying to “excuse away” conditions at Beneke’s feedlot but said spring rains had brought record precipitation to Kansas.
Many, if not all, feedlots have battled varying levels of mud and wet, the extent often depending on a pen’s design and whether a concrete apron is adjacent the feed bunk, he said.
“It is a difficult situation during extreme weather events that find feedlot and backgrounding producers with little options other than to provide straw/corn stalk bales for bedding and to wait for a break in the weather to clean pens,” he said.
He stressed the pens at the Manhattan feedlot “are cleaned ASAP” with any break in the weather.
“These conditions are not conducive to the performance or general welfare of the animals,” he said.