UNL Feedlot Innovation Center nears completion thanks to industry support

UNL Feedlot Innovation Center nears completion thanks to industry support

people looking at Arrowquip cattle chute
Ruth Woiwode, assistant professor of animal behavior and well-being at UNL, demonstrates the Arrowquip cattle handling system donated to the Klosterman Feedlot Innovation Center, scheduled to open this summer. Photo by Abigayle Warm.

The chute slides shut with a thud, not a clang, safely catching the steer so it can be vaccinated. The steer behind him waits quietly, looking ahead at the alleyway that will take him back to his pen. The only sounds are cattle shifting against the alleyway and the quiet voices of the workers vaccinating the cattle.

The steer is released and the next takes his place, the process repeated hundreds of times a day in feedlots.

There’s no shouting, no slamming chutes, no cattle trying to turn around in the alleyway or bolt from the chute.

“Something as seemingly small as an improper capture in a squeeze chute can have a significant impact over the life of the animal,” said Ruth Woiwode, assistant professor of animal behavior and well-being at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. In one group of cattle, animals that were improperly captured in a chute one time were 25 pounds behind the other animals in the study after 200 days—a cost of nearly $50 a head at today’s prices. 

Low-stress animal handling, which has been shown to improve both animal health and productivity, will be one of the research focuses at the Klosterman Feedlot Innovation Center, set to open this summer at University of Nebraska — Lincoln's Eastern Nebraska Research, Education and Extension Center near Mead, Nebraska.

New UNL feedlot research facility

The KFIC will be one of the only commercial-scale feedlot research centers in the world, and will include a processing barn that features two separate, but side-by-side alleyway and chute systems, with an elevated classroom so observers can watch the animals being processed without interfering with the systems. 

One of those alleyway and chute systems was donated by Arrowquip, a North American cattle handling equipment manufacturer that sees the value in promoting safe, low-stress cattle handling, and supporting research that helps them continue to improve their products and the industry. The donation included a 3E BudFlow Cattle Tub, The General Hydraulic Chute and Easy Flow Adjustable Cattle Alley.

“Arrowquip’s core values include a dedication to innovation, quality and safety of cattle handlers and livestock,” said Mark Firth, Arrowquip CEO. “This donation aligns with our commitment to advancing the cattle industry and promoting safe, low-stress cattle handling through equipment that is designed to work with cattle behavior. By partnering with educational institutions like the University of Nebraska — Lincoln, we are positioning Arrowquip as an industry leader that is invested in the development and success of future ranchers and industry professionals.” 

Woiwode said Arrowquip’s donation, along with a cattle handling system donated by Daniels Manufacturing Company in Ainsworth, Nebraska, and many other donations that funded the project, show the industry supports continual improvement in animal handling processes.
“We are extremely grateful for Arrowquip putting their trust in us,” Woiwode said. “It creates an opportunity for us to do some wonderful things that are at the heart of what we’re doing at the Klosterman Feedlot Innovation Center.”

The future of cattle handling

The Arrowquip system is a Budflow design, which is based on a “Bud box,” named after Bud Williams, one of the pioneers in low-stress cattle handling. The system uses the tendency of cattle to want to return to the last place they were, to reduce the stress of sending them through an unfamiliar facility.

“We know the least about this system,” Woiwode said. “I look forward to seeing it in action with the number of animals we’ll be able to observe and study.”

One of the most impressive parts of the chute in particular, Woiwode said, is how quiet it is. “These things really matter in a processing barn. When an animal enters a barn for the first time you want it to have a good experience. The more aversive their first experience is, the more difficult they can be to handle in subsequent events. Arrowquip takes feedback from vets and cattle producers, and we look forward to being part of the refinement process they have a track record of.”

Arrowquip is also looking forward to collecting that information and making those changes.

“This partnership provides a great opportunity for us to gain valuable insights into how our products are being used while providing the university with access to cutting-edge innovation in cattle equipment,” said Steve Langrell, part of Arrowquip’s Innovations team. “We are interested in understanding how Arrowquip’s equipment can increase efficiency and productivity in a real-world feedlot setting while reducing stress for both the livestock and operators. This partnership will help foster a learning environment that can help us with future innovations and enhancements to cattle equipment to continuously move the industry forward.”

Woiwode said this facility and the equipment in it will provide unprecedented opportunities for cattle handling research, especially in the feedlot sector, which has implications for most cattle in the United States.

“I’m most excited about having two systems side-by-side and essentially compiling a longitudinal database to make recommendations to the industry so they can make design changes based on perhaps the number of employees or types of animals they’re processing,” Woiwode said. “There’s so much we anticipate learning and much we don’t know. For as long as we’ve handled cattle in this environment, there’s a surprisingly small body of research that looks at behavior and handling related specifically to facilities.”

One of the objectives at the KFIC is to develop training resources for cattle industry employees, creating guidelines and best practices for low-stress cattle handling and worker safety, and this equipment and research is key to providing that to the industry, Woiwode said.

The KFIC is a $7.4 million facility that includes open-air and covered pens, a 240-head feeding facility, plus the cattle-handling facility with an enclosed classroom. The KFIC is funded in large part by donations from the cattle industry, including John and Beth Klosterman; JBS USA; Greater Omaha Packing; Farm Credit Services of America; Dennis and Glenda Boesiger; and the Klopfenstein Fund, which includes gifts from a number of UNL alumni, colleagues and industry partners who knew and worked with Terry Klopfenstein.

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