Barn becomes a classroom for day at MU Thompson Farm

The Thompson Farm calving barn became a classroom for the University of Missouri. The teachers were MU graduate students and their mentors. Their listeners were beef farmers on Sept. 17.

In his field day greeting, Chris Daubert said this farm was a classroom as much as any building on the Columbia campus. Daubert, dean of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, told how farm research helps beef farmers profit. It also prepares the next generation.

The evening program taught as much on grass, beef-cow rations and economics as it did on breeding heifers and cows.

MU specialists adjusted the day’s programs to fit the need after a hot, dry summer. Drought crippled hay production.

Eric Bailey, MU beef nutritionist, outlined a plan for feeding cows this coming winter. He says feed less hay. Also, cut waste in feeding big hay bales.

Low-cost grains and byproduct feeds can replace expensive hay. Feeding hay that costs $85 per big bale makes no economic sense, Bailey said.

Later, MU Extension beef economist Scott Brown said, “This drought is not like the drought of 2012.” Unlike then, grain crops will be plentiful, lowering feed costs. Rations using grains can replace high-price hay.

In a nutshell economic outlook, Brown said beef producers will struggle through 2019. In 2020 and beyond, Missouri’s beef-cow herds can boost the economy. With returning rains, producers are maintaining herd size.

Brown added cautions. For now, huge supplies of meat loom over markets. Pork and poultry producers face serious financial challenges.

Currently, consumer demand keeps beef prices strong. “Beef farmers listen to consumers and give what buyers want.” That’s both domestic and international. World trade remains vital to our farm economy, Brown said.

Just ahead, beef producers won’t gain much from higher prices, he said. To survive they must look to cutting costs.

Gaining quality beef at lower cost came from beef herd research at Thompson Farm for more than 20 years. Major gains were made in cutting death losses at calving. Also, quality beef gains through better genetics.

In the evening program, MU graduate students had first chances to share results of their studies at the MU research farm.

Genetics add to the MU reproduction programs. Research at the DNA level speeds breed progress, scientists find.

Students were joined by Jordan Thomas, a recent Ph.D. graduate now hired as an MU Extension specialist. It was his first appearance back at Thompson as a state specialist, up from student.

His research shifts from breeding heifers to inseminating older cows. Artificial insemination protocols that work on heifers don’t work as well with cows 4 years and older.

His report that older beef animals respond slower was understood by older beef farmers who made up much of the crowd.

Already, Thomas’ studies of longer breeding protocols show promise on old cows. “We’re just beginning,” he said. Other research aims to improve split-time AI and use of sexed semen.

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In his wrap-up of the day, emcee Bill Lamberson, director of animal science on the MU campus, pitched an appeal for financial support for science and teaching at Thompson Farm. His call echoed an appeal earlier last week by UM President Mun Choi. The leaders seek added dollar support. State funding hasn’t kept pace with costs at the state’s land-grant university.

Beef farmers already use research from MU Thompson farm to add value, Dean Daubert said.

Results in breeding quality beef herd replacements will be seen at six Show-Me-Select heifer sales across the state this fall.

Producers across the nation benefit from MU fixed-time AI breeding protocols. Field day visitors looked behind the scenes at new research on that.