When Steve Wenger left dairy farming about 27 years ago, he didn’t leave cattle completely.

“We raised calves and finished some,” he said. “In 2008 we got out of it because grain prices were through the roof. That was the first we saw $8 corn, so we decided we were better off marketing our crops as commodities instead of putting them through cattle.”

At the same time, Wenger’s son Nick was 12 years old and decided he wanted to raise beef cattle. Nick started raising beeves on the family’s Wen Crest Farm in Lebanon, PA.

“He took over the barns here,” said Steve. “He also had cattle on some satellite farms, and we bought a farm in York. Nick filled that with cattle for me.”

Later, with Nick and his wife Brooke expressing interest in expanding the beef feeding business, the Wengers formed a partnership.

In order to feed cattle profitably, the Wengers recently constructed a new barn equipped with state-of-the-art feeding equipment. “It really came together,” said Steve, adding that they had just completed construction of a new shop the year before. “Nick wanted a wash out bay, but I didn’t want one in the shop. Farmer Boy Ag came back the next year to build our new cattle barn and a wash out building.”

Nick worked with Jeff Moyer of Jeff’s Farm Service to design a computerized feeding system built by Valmetal for the new barn. With guidance from Farmer Boy Ag, Steve and Nick completed plans for the barn.

“Since Nick hauls cattle, he saw feedlots and barns all over the country,” said Steve. “We implemented what we thought would work the best here for our operation.”

While drive-through feed alleys are common in barns throughout the Northeast, such systems require ample space for equipment. “By putting in the computerized feeding system, we didn’t need all that alley space to drive through,” said Steve. “We could use the space for more pen space and more cattle. The feeder dispenses a TMR four times a day, which means all cattle have access to fresh feed throughout the day. We can have more cattle per square foot and still have plenty of feed and fresh water in front of them.”

Steve said that one of the best features they built into the barn design is a catwalk that allows the Wengers to observe cattle from above. There’s also a modern working chute system on one end of the barn that makes it easy to process incoming cattle. The barn design includes fans to provide constant air movement, reducing almost all fly pressure.

Feeding beef cattle efficiently

Steve Wenger of Wen Crest Farms uses the catwalk to observe cattle during their recent open house. Photo by Sally Colby

Having multiple cattle trucks on the road allows the Wengers to pick up cattle and transport them economically to their feedlot. Because they don’t have to schedule a hauler, the Wengers can pick up cattle on time, which eliminates holding time and reduces stress on cattle.

Incoming cattle weigh 800 to 1,000 lbs., ready for finishing. Cattle arrive with known health and vaccination histories. New arrivals are rested and acclimated prior to being handled for implants or additional vaccines. After rest and introductory feed, cattle are worked through the handling chutes for implants or whatever else they need.

The Wengers finish both steers and heifers, which are penned separately for optimum feed efficiency. Heifers are finished at 1,400 to 1,500 lbs.; steers, around 1,500 to 1,600 lbs. Steve said the market currently favors heavier cattle that grade high.

Today, Steve and Nick finish 2,600 head of beef cattle in two groups each year. Because Wen Crest also hauls cattle, Nick has had the opportunity to make connections and purchase good cattle from a variety of sources.

The expansion allows the Wengers to make good use of environmentally beneficial cover crops that can be harvested in spring and stored in trench silos. “We have 1,500 acres in cover crops out of the 3,000 acres we farm,” said Steve. “This year we grew rye, barley, triticale and wheat. With the cattle, we put in more harvestable cover crops, then we can spread manure and no-till plant into the stubble.”

Another environmental benefit of the expansion project is the construction of the wash out. “We can wash out our own cattle pots and it’s open to the public for wash out,” said Steve. “It worked out well to tie together with the new building. We didn’t have to do a stormwater plan because we’re using water from the roofs that goes into a 30,000-gallon cistern. That means we didn’t have to tie up an acre or two for stormwater basins and we avoided the cost of implementing those structures.”

Wash water is diverted to the cattle manure storage under the barn. The addition of water to cattle manure results in improved manure consistency for storage, handling and land application.

At an open house hosted by the Wenger family, vendors present included Farmer Boy Ag, IH Rissler, Valmetal, Jeff’s Farm Service, Keystone Concrete Products, MH Eby, Animat and Sturdy Built.

by Sally Colby