Herd owners learn value of quality beef at MU Thompson Farm

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SPICKARD, Mo.—Breeding protocols to produce quality beef are “on the shelf,” ready for cow herd owners to use. University of Missouri scientists told the story behind breeding progress at a field day, Sept 17, at MU Thompson Farm in Grundy County.

Following them, a farmer who uses those protocols in his herd told how cow beauty is more than skin deep. He uses computerized records to tell which cows are most profitable. Least profitable cows can be culled.

“You can’t look at a cow and know if she is making you any money,” said Mike Kasten, Millersville, Mo. He spoke to 140 farmers and students gathered on a rainy day.

He followed David Patterson, MU beef reproduction specialist, who led research on fixed-time artificial insemination protocols now used worldwide. The protocols were developed at Thompson Farm, the beef research center that is part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Columbia.

Other topics were covered. Shawn Deering, MU Extension livestock specialist, Albany, urged testing feed quality of hay baled this summer during the drought.

Damaged hay may be overmature and short on nutrients. Poor hay may appear to be good hay, but not have feed quality for a cow to have a strong calf and rebreed for the next calf crop.

The good news, Deering said, is that supplemental feed should cost less this winter. And distillers byproduct feeds will be more plentiful. Many sources of supplements are available, he said.

Scott Brown, MU beef economist, Columbia, told how a large corn crop can lower feed ration costs. That can restore strength in the cattle feeding business.

“We need the feedlots as herd owners expand herds to meet growing demand for quality beef,” Brown said. “That includes packing plants and other infrastructure.”

The economist pointed out the importance of lower feed costs and rising demand for USDA prime-grade beef for cow-calf producers.

Brown showed the declining value of select-grade beef. More than half of U.S. beef production is select, a low USDA grade. Less than 5 percent of all U.S. beef grades prime, the most profitable grade for herd owners.

Kasten had shown how using superior sires by AI allows his cow herd to produce calves that now grade prime about 30 percent of the time. “You can’t do that without keeping herd records,” he said. “You will earn a lot more money keeping records than you do when baling hay or running a brush hog over pastures.

“I’m more of a numbers guy than I realized, until I started visiting other producers,” he added. “Herd management starts by using numbered ear tags on all animals. With numbers, you can identify which cows are most profitable. It’s not about cows that look pretty.”

Kasten went to work at MU last year to reach farmers with an extension program called “Quality Beef by the Numbers.” The program aims to bring more value-added dollars back to herd owners.

Jared Decker, a geneticist and newest member of the MU beef team, told how DNA profiles aid in selecting breeding stock, sires and replacement heifers.

When making buying decisions, it is best to have as much information as possible, Decker said. “First, you should have a breeding plan. Then stick to the plan. Buying sires and replacement heifers are long-term investments.”

EPDs, indicators of expected progeny differences, are long-used tools. Now EPDs are enhanced with DNA tests. Those increase precision in predicting beef quality of offspring. Decker showed how those tests start by pulling tail hairs or collecting blood samples for DNA tests.

In ceremonies at the field day, Rod Geisert, Thompson superintendent, unveiled a portrait of George Gates, Bethany, Mo., former chair of the Thompson Farm advisory board.

Farm manager Jon Schreffler received a plaque for his 35 years at the farm. He went from farm worker to manager, replacing retired David McAtee, Trenton. Marc Linit of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station in Columbia presented the honor.


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