Farmers celebrate, profit, 20 years of better heifers

Duane Dailey

Missouri beef producers celebrated this past weekend in Columbia. It was a double-take.

Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer producers started Friday taking care of business, adjusting requirements.

At the same time the Missouri Cattleman’s Association started three days of their 50th anniversary.

All had herds to be tended, fed and watered in the worst Arctic air intrusion in years. From the north state line, I heard reports of -19F temperatures. That was not wind chill, but actual cold. There were probably lower temps.

It was a struggle to keep waterers working. Ice was chopped on ponds. Feed had to be doubled as cows’ energy needs went up just for maintenance.

Undoubtedly cases of fescue foot shot up, as cows grazing the toxic grass suffered from reduced blood circulation. Even before the deep cold wave came, producers in south Missouri reported the crippling, even deadly, disease.

Happier news came Friday evening with a joint celebration. Heifer producers marked 20 years of improved prices and progress in genetic gains.

Dave Patterson, MU Extension, showed results from heifer sales, now held fall and spring. Cattle sold topped $50 million dollars. Ripple effect from that tallies $150 million to Missouri.

That’s just from the auctions. Some producers have their own sales for more of black-and-gold ear tagged heifers. Many heifers are sold private treaty at the farms.

The main value however comes in the farm herds. Most of the heifers now stay at home.

There’s no way to tally that total. Calving-ease genetics that first drew attention to SMS herds almost eliminated death losses of calves and first-calf heifers. That comes not only from genetics of calving-ease bulls, but also prebreeding exams of all heifers.

Exams also improve conception rates. At current calf prices more live births, even at 5 percent, makes a big boost in profits.

With agriculture the number one industry and beef cows the number one livestock that’s lots of money. All it takes is enrolling the herd in the University of Missouri Extension program and following proven protocols.

Research and protocols came from the beef herd at the MU Thompson Farm, Spickard. That research now used worldwide gives Missourians an edge. Every MU Extension livestock specialist can give hands on help.

Near the end of the party, top MU leaders celebrated as well. They told of a new grant from USDA to expand the education for veterinarians across the country. The vets especially like calving ease.

The new center connects Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science. At Mizzou they are next to each other.

The success of the reproduction research and extension at MU has made it the leading winner of USDA grants in that area.

Heifers that calve unassisted not only add profits to farmers but cut those late-night calls to vets to come pull a calf. Those are no-win calls.

Saturday, producers went to Cattlemen’s College where they heard market outlook by Scott Brown and farm labor by Joe Horner. Both are MU economists. Jared Decker, geneticist, told advantages of using dollar-beef genomic indexes.

Brown said he used to look at the Select-Choice grade price spread. Now the one to watch is Choice-Prime spread. Prime prices are steady at the top. In early 2017 that spread hit $60 per hundredweight.

One of the pioneer SMS producers now has calves that grade 75 percent Prime. That makes the heifer steermates worth a lot more. Buyers at top restaurants are willing to pay for Prime beef. The consistent quality brings diners back.

For producers to capture that premium takes retained ownership.

Decker showed that genomics can predict quality beef. A genomic test can give a 400 percent return on investment.

The indexes simplify breeding selection. “Use them they are proven,” Decker said. “They work.”

Send your heifer stories to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203. The best part was visiting producers that I’d written stories on in the last 20 years.