Farm Progress

A southwest Missouri rancher makes raising replacement heifers simple.

March 30, 2018

3 Min Read
FINDING WHAT WORKS: Denis Turner (left) uses practices recommended by University of Missouri Extension at Turner’s Heifer Haven. Ted Probert, MU Extension dairy specialist, works with Turner on research-based practices such as rotational grazing, pasture renovation, synchronized AI and more.Linda Geist

By Linda Geist

Denis Turner keeps his southwestern Missouri heifer replacement operation simple.

For the most part, it is one man for 500 to 1,000 heifers at Turner’s Heifer Haven, a pasture-based operation near Hartville, Mo., where Turner raises heifers for others.

“Make sure every task can be carried out by one person,” Turner says. “Two-man jobs are accomplished on time only about half of the time.”

Lessen the workload
One employee can feed grain supplements to 500 head of cattle per hour with fence-line feeding — a system of placing feed bunks on the edges of pens, along alleys that are wide enough for access with a feed truck. The method makes the feeding process safer for animals, prevents spread of disease from pen to pen, and reduces competition among heifers. It also gives the person doing the feeding quick and easy access to feed bunks.

The design makes things easier for the animals as well as the humans. Heifers never have to walk more than 800 feet to drink fresh water. “The farther they walk, the more energy they use for purposes other than gain,” Turner says. “Wasted steps mean wasted dollars.”

The same employee who accomplishes the grain feeding can also move eight to 10 groups of cattle to new grazing pastures in less than two hours.

With only one employee, the job of caring for cattle on weekends usually falls to Turner. That puts another set of eyes on heifers to evaluate health, gain and reproduction. He also watches for flies and other parasites that reduce growth.

Turner contracts with dairy and beef producers as a background operation. Producers pay him to put pounds on heifers as well as getting them bred and returned to their original herds before calving. “There’s one important thing here, and that’s the cattle,” says Turner.

Forage considerations
Turner knows that properly managed forages put pounds on animals through good nutrition.

In the early 1990s, Turner was one of Missouri’s first farmers to convert to rotational grazing as part of a two-year project with the University of Missouri, says Ted Probert, MU Extension dairy specialist.

“MU Extension found that heifers rotated on fresh grazing paddocks gained more weight and were healthier than those not in a rotational system,” Probert says, adding that Turner became one of the state’s first farmers to convert pastures from toxic Kentucky 31 fescue to legume-based pastures that improve health and increase weight gains. “Denis’ operation is a testament to good grazing management,” he says.

Regular forage tests, also recommended by MU Extension, are critical to Turner’s success. The tests reveal the nutritional content and quality of the forage. “With testing, we can target supplementation to the specific needs of animals. Anything else is a shot in the dark,” says Turner.

With a degree in animal science from Missouri State University and 30 years of experience, Turner understands cattle. Simplifying animal health and nutrition protocols are keys to reducing labor requirements, and they ultimately make the cattle operation sustainable.

Geist writes for the University of Missouri based in Columbia, Mo.

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