Thompson Farm in Spickard, Mo., is home for beef reproduction research from the University of Missouri. That doesn't protect it from the harsh weather of hot droughts and the frigid calving season recently faced by all beef farms.
Weather cut beef herd size and boosted costs for labor and feed, farm manager Jon Schreffler said during a meeting of the Thompson Farm advisory board. Area beef farmers are advisers.
"We sorted out older, low-producing cows to help with feed shortages," Schreffler said. To watch calving cows this winter, farmworker shifts were extended to give continuous coverage.
Preventing death losses at calving time becomes important to protect research work.
In his report, farm superintendent Bill Lamberson of Columbia said that despite high costs, the research farm has a cash balance of more than $300,000.
Farm sales supplement MU Agriculture Experiment Station funds. Cattle sales and cropland rent give income. Thompson Farm is one of 14 MU research farms across the state.
The breeding herd this spring will have 213 cows, short of a goal of 250 cows. The farm owns more cattle, 79 steers on feed plus 84 yearling heifers. There's more. A "teaching herd" of 42 older open cows is used in artificial insemination breeding schools and for teaching at the MU South Farm in Columbia.
MU Thompson Farm gained national fame as home of improved calving rates through fixed-time artificial insemination.
Research herds take added labor, but results of that research cut labor for farmers. With timed AI, all females are bred on one morning, cutting labor. That shortens calving seasons. Herd owners spend fewer nights checking on calving.
After 20 years of research, conception rates and calving ease continue to improve. Death losses drop at calving time and beef quality goes up, bringing premium prices to the beef industry.
Dave Patterson, MU Extension reproduction specialist, said better breeding improves profits for Missouri farms. The most visible payoffs are Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program sales held in the spring and fall.
Calves from the MU farm herd are not sold as feeders. Surplus heifers are sold as replacements, bringing premium prices from informed buyers.
Steers are sent to a feedlot to finish. By keeping steers, grid premium prices for prime beef come back to the farm. From the beginning, it's been normal for two-thirds of the steers to grade USDA prime. Improved marbling, which makes prime beef, brings higher prices.
Genetic research is now part of the farm breeding. Jared Decker, MU Extension geneticist, reported all females in recent years have been genomic tested. That builds herd research value. Genetics used by herd owners improve beef quality from Missouri farms.
All newborn females at Thompson are now DNA tested. The tests use a few drops of blood or tissue samples from calf ears. That data lasts the lifetime of a calf. Only heifers are measured as their data apply to steer mates.
Genomics along with pedigrees improve expected progeny differences. Those guide mating of bulls to heifers and cows. EPDs help boost calving ease, which cuts death loss.
MU research at Thompson Farm led to protocols used for Show-Me-Select replacement heifers. While only Missouri herd owners enroll in SMS, the effect reaches across the country. Heifers have been sold into 20 states.
With fewer deaths, farms using MU protocols have surplus heifers to sell. Better genetics increase heifer prices at auction.
New MU AI research covers use of split-time breeding and sexed semen.
Dailey is a retired emeritus professor with the University of Missouri. He writes from Columbia, Mo.