COOK STATION, Mo. – Grass-covered hills of the Ozarks, with no corn or bean fields in sight, provided the setting for the annual Missouri Beef Tour, Aug. 29. Some 275 producers toured four grass farms and a University of Missouri research station to learn improved beef production.

At the first farm, Leon Kreisler, Salem, Mo., told how management-intensive grazing eliminates supplemental feeding for 93 fall-calving cows. He grazes the herd through the winter on fescue, but feeds hay in September while cows are calving near the house. Meanwhile, winter forage grows in the grazing paddocks.

“That’s something a little different,” he admitted, “but stockpiled fescue makes higher-quality winter feed than any hay I can bale.”

Leon and wife Helen started their grazing system in 1991 after attending a grazing school at the MU Forage Systems Research Center (FSRC), Linneus, Mo. They divided 125 acres of pasture into 30 paddocks. In spring, when grass is lush, they move cows every day.

At that stop, an MU Extension nutritionist told of new research at FSRC. Justin Sexten, an advocate of early weaning, found that when forage is plentiful it is best to leave calves on the cows longer.

“Dairy cows are milked for 10 months,” he said. “That’s what we did with fall-calving beef cows, letting the calves nurse until the end of July. Most fall calves are weaned in mid-April. With the milk, grazing calves gained an average 2.9 pounds a day. The weaned stocker calves on fescue without feed or milk gained nine-tenths pound a day.

“I lost a bet on that one,” Sexten told visitors.

At the next farm, George and Frank Barnitz, a father-son partnership, Lake Spring, Mo., told how they add value to their weaned calves. They background calves from the 450 cows on their woodland farm. They feed calves to heavier weights before they are sold to feedlots.

They use a mix of shelled corn, distillers dried grain and soy hulls to supplement baled hay in the ration.

Craig Evans, Lebanon, Mo., told how members of South Ozarks Premier Beef Marketers pool calves to feed at the Barnitz farm. “By putting calves together, small producers can look like a big producer.” Their goal is to sell semi-trailer loads of similar calves at one time. They feed 300 to 450 calves fall and spring. Their 21st group in 10 years is going to feedlots now.

This summer, Evans figures they’ve added $188 in value to the 750-pound calves before the Barnitzes deduct feeding costs. “It’s very worthwhile.”

At the Barnitz Farm, John Hoehne, agricultural engineer with the MU Commercial Agriculture Program, demonstrated a large-animal composting pit. A dead cow was buried in sawdust near where the crowd listened. No one noticed odors from the decomposing animal.

“Sawdust acts as a biofilter,” Hoehne said. Composting drew interest because rendering plants no longer pick up dead livestock. It is easier than burial or incineration.

Bob and Gretchen Thompson, Glengrove Hereford Farm, Rolla, Mo., showed their seedstock herd. They sell breeding stock from their 40-cow herd to commercial herd owners. “We try to have the kind of bulls that buyers need to improve their herds,” Thompson said. “We offer diverse genetics with balanced EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences).”

The Thompsons sent heifers for research at the MU South Farm, Columbia, Mo., where they were measured for Residual Feed Intake (RFI).

Bob Weaber, MU Extension geneticist, explained the test. RFI aims to find lines of cattle that put on more pounds with less feed. Instead of measuring average daily gain (ADG) on a pen, individual calves are weighed daily, along with feed intake. Scientists are working to develop EPDs for feed efficiency.

At the last stop, Denny and Mary Beth Pogue, Rolla, Mo., eliminated hay feeding altogether last winter. When hay equipment wore out, it was not replaced.

Their grazing land is a mile-long valley between woodlands. Their 210-acre pasture was divided into 16 paddocks, mostly 10-12 acres each. They subdivided those paddocks into one-acre plots with reels of polywire and pigtail posts. The 65 cows grazed 24 hours and moved every evening. The 18 bred heifers are grazed separately.

“Every time you reduce the size of a paddock, you increase grazing efficiency,” Pogue said. One advantage is that all the manure and urine returns fertility to where the grass was grown.

“We’re not going to eliminate commercial fertilizer, but this year we applied only two tons,” Pogue said. Fertilizer is added in the fall only to help stockpile growth.

The beef tour ended at MU Wurdack Farm, Cook Station, Mo, for a beef dinner. Afterward, five tour wagons took visitors to two grazing systems, including one in woodlands.

The tour was organized by the MU Extension Commercial Agriculture Program with sponsorship from Missouri Corn Growers Association, Missouri Department of Conservation, FCS Financial and Missouri Beef Industry Council.

Source: Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension