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Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center director's monthly column featured in Cattleman Magazine. Archives

Dan Loy in The Cattleman Magazine


February 2019

The Feedlot of the Future

“Alexa, feed the cows” was a popular internet meme on cold days this winter. The idea of smart machines doing the daily work in a feedlot probably crosses the mind of managers from time to time. Technology will most certainly bring improved feedlot decision-making and management in the future. Universities and companies are currently investing in new methods to capture cattle activity, behavior and welfare through digital cameras, motion sensing ear tags and electronic devices placed in feed bunks and waterers. Already instant data collection is available through digital interfaces with electronic scales and other devices. Regardless of the power of technology, people will make the decisions and care for the animals.

However, one important area where even the best technologies can fail is data integrity. For example feed weights are much less meaningful if the moisture of the feed has changed, the scales are improperly calibrated or the feed is not mixed properly. Routine measurements of feed moisture and feed mixer tests should be a standard protocol for feedlots to get the most out of the information they collect.

While technological gadgets can aid in collecting lots and lots of raw data, that data must be converted to meaningful information for timely decision-making. Accurate current breakeven prices and dry matter intake charts by pen are useful tools today. Future tools will bring additional value to individual animal information. The potential is exciting but it will always need to be integrated with our knowledge of the biology of the animal and interface with the people that do the daily animal care.

Speaking of people we are pleased to introduce you to our newest staff member. Beth Reynolds joined us on January 28 as the new Extension Beef Program Specialist on campus in Ames. Beth is from a farming and ranching family in the Sandhills of Northeast Colorado and just recently completed her MS in Animal Nutrition from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Beth has conducted research on grazing management of cover crops, and has experience and interest in beef systems management. Look for her around the state supporting our programs and developing new projects.

Our team continues to provide Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification and education programs around the state in cooperation with the Iowa Beef Industry Council. Even though we have certified thousands of Iowans in the last year during face to face educational programs, we may have missed you in your local area. Remember that you can always go through the certification process online. Just go to and follow the directions.

This month is the culmination of the Cow Systems Project, a three-year project that followed 24 cow-calf producers with widely varying production systems. Our team captured a lot of information from these cooperators and have summarized it in a manual that will soon be released. We hope this document helps others evaluate what makes cow-calf production successful with the widely varying resource opportunities across the state. Also look for a series of meetings across the state to share this information this month. Details on dates and locations are available at the IBC website.

Early in January we conducted a series of listening sessions across the state. This is just one method we use to gather information about the needs for education and information by our stakeholders. Look for a summary of key findings from these sessions in the near future.

The IBC at Iowa State University serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers. Our center comprises a team of faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. We work together to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry. If you’d like to be notified of updates on progress of research projects or programs that might be coming to your area, please subscribe to our “Growing Beef” newsletter by following the link on our website, If you have a question, use the “Ask our Experts” link on the website. Also, feel free to call us at 515-294-BEEF or email us at You can also follow @iowabeefcenter on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.