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Missouri feedlot school helps to retain cattle

Laura Handke for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 April 2022
Eric Bailey

Of the 1.7 million head of cattle raised in Missouri each year, only 187,500 of those cattle are finished on Missouri soil – a situation the University of Missouri Extension team hopes to rectify.

With new-found interest in feeding cattle and the resources needed to make the endeavor work for Missouri producers, Missouri beef extension specialist Eric Bailey, along with extension field specialists Jim Humphrey, Shawn Deering and Wesley Tucker, set out to build a program that would bring value to a producer’s bottom line.

The extension team offered the first-of-its-kind feedlot school in Missouri in August 2021. The event quickly sold out, spurring a second school in January 2022, which also sold out and garnered a long wait list. There’s no shortage of interest from producers eager to increase the profitability of their cow-calf operations.

Bailey believes some of the renewed interest in finishing cattle in the state can be attributed to the opening of a packing plant in southwest Missouri and the announcement of another plant near St. Louis, coming online in the next two years.

“Missouri has historically been a significant cow-calf state; we’ve shipped our calves to other states for a long time,” Bailey says. “But now with these packing plants opening up, there’s real opportunity to feed our cattle out within the state. That led a group of us extension specialists to put this [feedlot school] program together to try to serve the need.”

Bailey says that north of I-70, several operations were already feeding cattle and interested in learning more to improve their operation. Additionally, many producers from across the state have interest in adding value to their cow-calf herd through retained ownership – an opportunity realized during COVID-19.

“One of our participants shared that he saw an opportunity when COVID hit and began feeding cattle, without a lot of background knowledge or support. He ended up creating a freezer-beef business, but wasn’t sure how to scale up his operation. He also had questions about where he could be more efficient. The feedlot school was able to help him answer a lot of the questions he had,” Bailey says.

Building opportunity

Bailey says he is glad to see feeding return to a state that was once in the top 10 in the nation for cattle feeding.

“For whatever reason, we moved to a model where we transport calves to another location. We’re actually holding less than one-third of our calves to even be backgrounded, and it just doesn’t make sense. We have a number of ethanol plants [to source wet and dry distillers grains], substantial access to corn and the ability to source other commodities off the Mississippi River,” he says.

To highlight the resources other Missouri ag sectors offer, the school presented a wide range of educational presentations, including why producers should consider feeding cattle in Missouri, realistic performance expectations, financing a confinement feeding facility, insurance and risk management, feeding cull cows, ration formulation, bunk management, feeding technologies and feed mixing demonstrations.

The curriculum, along with the potential for additional marketing opportunities, drew the interest of Dwight Harper, a Red Angus producer from Tina, Missouri.

Harper had found himself at a marketing crossroads.

Dwight Harper is feeding and finishing his own cattle

“I would take my red cattle to the sale barn in town, and I just felt like for the genetics I was investing in my cattle, I wasn’t reaping any of those rewards because of their color. So we started to look at feeding our own cattle. We already raise corn and beans; we were already kind of set up to feed cattle,” Harper says. “But I knew there was much more to it.”

After attending the feedlot school, Harper set a goal to feed 300 head of calves based on the capacity of the facilities he had to work with. By November, he was full.

“We had all the cattle we wanted to feed by November,” says Harper. “A lot of the people I’m feeding for are interested in the same thing I am. They’re buying high-powered bulls and have good genetics in their program – and feel like there is more to gain by feeding their cattle out, and some of my customers just want to see how their cattle feed out.”

Another recently developed benefit many of Harper’s customers are seeing is the savings on shipping.

“When you’re looking at 5 dollar diesel fuel and you’re shipping cattle out to Dodge City [Kansas], and then you’re turning around and shipping the meat back to Missouri, smaller packers in more regional areas is a better fit,” Harper says.

Serving all producers

Of the feedlot school participants, around three-quarters are focused on selling commodity beef, with the remaining 25% selling into niche, specialty markets.

“In the two schools we have done, so far, I would say there were probably four to six participants of the 25 [who] were interested in selling freezer beef through direct-to-consumer marketing,” Bailey says. “So we really tried to take a 360-degree view of the entire operation and different types of operations.”

Also included in the schools was the opportunity to connect with and learn from fellow producers and cattle feeders in the area through on-site tours of their operations – an opportunity that Bailey shares generated a wealth of discussion and information with those operators participating in the schools as much as their time would allow.

“We definitely tried to make an emphasis on peer-to-peer education. I’ve been in extension for five years now and have seen how folks gravitate toward producer panels and opportunities to interact with people who are already doing what they would like to be doing,” says Bailey.

Two additional schools are planned for the 2022 calendar year and will be held in two new areas of the state. The curriculum is also likely to change, somewhat, as the program adapts to better serve the interests and needs of backgrounders, as well as feeders.   end mark

PHOTO 1: University of Missouri Beef Nutrition Specialist Eric Bailey discusses different forage and feedstuff options at the August feedlot school. Due to overwhelming interest, two additional schools are planned for 2022. 

PHOTO 2: Dwight Harper of Tina, Missouri, is feeding and finishing his own cattle, as well as neighboring cattle. The service has been a welcome addition in the area, with bunk space filling quickly. Photos courtesy of University of Missouri Extension.

For more information on the University of Missouri feedlot schools, contact Eric Bailey, emial Eric Bailey or (573) 884-7873.

Laura Handke is a freelance writer based in Kansas.