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Feedlot Continues to Meet Farm, Conservation Goals in Traill County

A confined animal feeding operation built in 2004 continues to be one of the top conservation success stories in Traill County, says Curtis Zerface, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist in Hillsboro.

Elliott Brothers Feedlot, owned by brothers Mike and Al Elliott, Galesburg, stands out for several reasons, including:

  • Traill County doesn’t have much livestock in the first place. Therefore, not many people know about livestock, let alone feedlots. Permitted for 3,000 head of cattle, the 16-pen feedlot is big by North Dakota standards. But the Elliotts were careful to select a site in one of the more isolated areas of the county where soils were suitable for construction.

  • The topography is challenging. Most of the county is very flat and poorly drained. The Elliotts’ site has natural drainage. It is on one of the first beach ridges on the western edge of the Red River Valley. To further improve drainage, the Elliotts built mounds in the centers of each pen. They bed the mounds in winter and spring to help keep the animals out of the mud. The Elliotts also have a 30-foot wide concrete aprons in front of the feed bunks where the cattle stand and eat.

  • The soils are tricky. The soils range from heavy, tight clay to coarse sand and gravel. The sand and gravel is very porous, and the Elliotts had to avoid building a feedlot on them. The feedlot is designed so that all the surface runoff the pens, feed storage area and yard is contained in a lagoon. Rain that falls outside the site is diverted around the feedlot and is kept clean.

  • Water for livestock isn’t easy to find in the area. The Elliotts had to drill several wells before they eventually found one that produced an adequate volume of water. To make sure they were never short of water, they installed storage tanks to hold 18,000 gallons of water and connected them to the rural water system.

livestock, feedlot

Mike Elliott credits NRCS staff with helping identify a suitable site, designing the feedlot and developing the water sources. NRCS worked with a project engineer to design a system that met regulations. NRCS technicians staked the site and then inspected the construction to make sure was built correctly.

“They spent a lot of hours out here,” Mike says.

Zerface in turn praises the Elliotts. Mike and Al run the feedlot with Patrick Enger and several of their sons and grandchildren.

“They were great to work with,” Curt says. “They care about doing things right.”

The state has ground water monitoring wells around the feedlot but has never found any leakage. The Elliotts haven’t had any complaints about odors or traffic.

“It is not fancy,” Mike says of the feedlot, “but it is a pretty workable situation.”