“As beef prices drop, improved genetics gain value,” Dave Patterson told visitors to Thompson Farm in September. The University of Missouri Extension specialist said farmer-owned beef herds gain value using research from the MU farm near Spickard in Grundy County, Mo.
“We’re improving value in what is already proven to work,” Patterson said. He and MU graduate students perfected fixed-time artificial insemination (FTAI) at the farm. All cows, or heifers, can be bred by appointment the same day. That cuts labor.
“We improve technology and add better genetics to the herd," Patterson said. The big value comes from using genetics of the best sires in the breed.
“Now we must overcome resistance to adopting the protocols from here,” he said.
Patterson did his first research in Missouri in 1998. Every year brings more advances. The MU team refined timing of breeding for heifers, two-year-old cows and mature cows. Each group’s needs are different.
Farmers must use only current AI instructions, as they change yearly, Patterson said. The research boils down to two sides of a guide printed on a yellow card. AI companies print the guide in their sire catalogs.
“Work on improving heifers spills over into the cow herd,” Patterson said. “We’ve created an understanding of the importance of heifer development on reproductive outcomes. Farmers learn to capture that value.”
The Show-Me-Select Heifer Program remains the best success. There have been 145 bred-heifer sales with gross sales of $44.5 million. That’s dollars back to farmers.
“When prices were high, all heifers sold well,” Patterson said. “Now, buyers pay more for superior genetics. Repeat buyers teach us the value of high-quality heifers.”
Annual heifer sales are a small part of economic gains for the state, Patterson said. “As intended, most heifers stay on the farm to improve the home herd.”
Some SMS heifer producers sell at their own private sales. Heifers become a major enterprise.
Since the first two sales in 1997, the heifer program has affected herds in 95 percent of Missouri counties.
Average price for replacement heifers the first year was $826. In 2015, the average was $2,388. That dropped from record prices in 2014.
Other values are gained. In the latest sales, Tier Two heifers, with better genetics, brought $400 premiums. That was above averages for bull-bred SMS heifers. Tier Two heifers are out of superior sires, bred to superior sires. Some farms have many generations of improvements.
For the state, a great value comes in educating graduate students and veterinarians. Many now earn dual degrees.
Patterson’s former students work in the AI industry. As veterinarians and Extension specialists, they help farmers raise better heifers.
At the end of his talk, Patterson gave a sneak preview of an AI protocol from Jordan Thomas, doctoral student. Thomas could not attend because of class conflict.
His split-time AI protocol increased conception rates from fixed-time breeding.
Missouri producers can gain help from regional livestock specialists through their local MU Extension Center. The best way is to enroll in the yearlong SMS heifer program.
Details on enrolling in SMS or attending fall sales are at agebb.missouri.edu/select.