COLUMBIA, Mo. –Missouri beef producers learned that how their calves perform in feedlots starts with what happens on their farms—even before breeding time.

A group of 92 producers, educators and beef industry leaders tracked calves to western Kansas feed yards and processing plants during a three-day bus tour.

“The tour aims to show producers the value added by following proven management and reproduction protocols,” said David Patterson, University of Missouri Extension beef specialist. The trip was timed to see pens of steers from MU Thompson Farm, Spickard, and MU Greenley Center, Novelty. The calves were almost ready to go to a processing plant.

In past years, MU Thompson Farm steers won the Angus Carcass Challenge for the Irsik and Doll Feed Yard, Garden City, Kan. Final results are based on cutout value determined by the processor.

The bus tour was arranged by MU Extension with the help of the Missouri Beef Industry Council. Stops were made at two feed yards, two ranches producing quality genetics and a Tyson beef packing plant.

At a beef dinner at Manhattan, Kan., marketers explained price premiums paid for quality. Larry Corah, vice president of Certified Angus Beef (CAB), said Missouri producers supply about 10 percent of their premium beef. Brian Bertelsen of U.S. Premium Beef showed how cattle are graded and assigned grid bonuses at the packing plant.

For most producers, it was their first time to see large feedlots or be inside a processing plant.

The feed yard at Pratt (Kan.) Feeders, which holds 35,000 calves, is on a World War II airfield. Feed bunks are more than a mile long. The Irsik and Doll lot holds 38,000 calves. Both specialize in feeding high-quality calves. The managers said, Send us your quality calves.

The feed yards want calves that have been weaned and vaccinated. Calves that have been weaned 45 days and know to eat from feeders go right to gaining at the feedlot. The sandy soil of western Kansas keeps calves mud-free.

“A calf that gets sick and treated at the feedlot will never grade prime,” producers were told. Management as well as genetics brings grid premiums.

At the start of the tour, Scott Brown, MU economist, explained the changing beef business. Consumers, both domestic and global, increased their demand for prime cattle. Calves with superior genetics are more likely to produce USDA prime quality grade carcasses. Brown said top prime premiums could add an extra $400 per calf.

At the packing plant, buyers explained how both quality grade and yield increase value. To attract more cattle, the processors are boosting premiums.

In seminars on the bus, Patterson told how interest in prime steers has grown from the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer program.

“With artificial insemination (AI) using proven sires, rapid improvement can be made in cow herds,” Patterson said. “Repeated success depends on using proven high-accuracy sires.”

Too often producers look at the potential of the bull based on the price paid. Genetic value depends on records of their calves sent to market.

“Proven bulls bring predictability,” Patterson said.

From research at Thompson Farm, protocols for timed breeding were developed and field-tested. Now, all cows in a herd can be bred on one day. Fixed-time breeding results in more uniform calf size and quality. Also, calving seasons are shortened.

In on-farm trials across the state, timed-AI protocols resulted in pregnancy rates of up to 82 percent on the first day of the breeding season.

“I don’t want to imply all will be that successful,” Patterson said. “The lowest conception rate was 39 percent. But we’ve learned to identify reasons for low rates. Overall, most herds averaged 65 percent conception rates.”

Most of the rest of the cows in a herd become pregnant on the second cycle.

From the Show-Me-Select program, producers found that steer mates made more money in the feedlots, further adding value.

At the start of the tour at the Kansas City Livestock Exchange Building, Bill Haw, owner, told producers he has learned that calves grading prime make more money at the feed yard. Haw backgrounds calves on his Flint Hills ranches, then feeds them in his two feedlots.

Haw, who brought vertical integration to the hog business, told beef producers that two things are certain: Change and the economy of scale.

His challenge to small-herd owners was to work together, such as in cooperatives. Because of the need for grazing land, it will be difficult to gain vertical integration as in pork and poultry.

Haw also advised listening to the customers. “Provide what the buyer wants.”

On the bus ride home, producers took the microphone to tell what they learned. Most said they would improve breeding in their cow herds.

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