Grass-grazing cows cover land not as suited for crop growing


Cattle and grass make big advantages for Missouri. We’re near the top in cow numbers. Probably tops on cows per-acre basis. We’ll never top No. 1 Texas. Missouri’s green hills were meant to be covered in grass. They support cow herds.

Cattle and grass go together. That doesn’t mean crops aren’t important. But, lay of the land indicates where it’s best to grow livestock and grass.

Way back in writing about MU Extension Balanced Farming program, we knew that most crop farms had room for cows. We should recall some of that learning.

Last month, traveling to a Show-Me-Select heifer sale, Dave Patterson founder of SMS, said I should write about changes I’ve seen in beef production in Missouri. That would make a big book.

Beef breeding protocols developed under Patterson’s leadership top the nation in growing success, and profits in beef herds. Now, herd owners in other states come to Missouri to buy replacement heifers. Buying is a quick way to upgrade a cow herd.

That research came from MU Ag Experiment Station’s Thompson Farm, Spickard. Extension carries the word out to Missouri farmers.

We must not forget that before beef herd improvement, Missouri led in forage management. We led the nation in improved use of our pastures. Management-intensive Grazing research came from the Experiment Station farm at Linneus, Mo. MiG started there with Jim Gerrish. Grazing schools he started still teach those concepts.

With rotational grazing, forage land carries about a third more cows. That’s a profit maker. Grass management ideas continue to improve. We now know how to improve toxic tall fescue.

We don’t think of grass and cow concepts together enough. Protocols for heifer management cut death rates at calving. First-calf heifers survive. That loss could run 19 percent. Heifers and their calves died. That’s a huge drain on farm money. Less loss means more profits.

With improved efficiency, we have surplus heifers to sell. The world is waiting. There is a market.

A side effect from better reproduction breeding is better carcass quality in the beef herds. Steermates grade Prime at packing plants. They fetch grid-price premiums.

I no longer follow this close as I did, but the trend may remain. We have super grass managers and we have super good cow-herd managers. We need more multitasking, with more farmers combining both jobs.

There’s a world of consumers awaiting quality beef made in Missouri. Missouri farmers led in opening free trade for our products, from high-quality soybeans to Prime beef. Ill-informed government tariff rules took away farm free enterprise. Cash flow back to farmers dropped for awhile.

Emphasis on grass and cattle takes nothing away from crop farming. We have land best suited for soybeans and corn. But, that doesn’t mean we should plow up more pastures to grow crops or get bigger tractors. We have a real niche for soybeans with our land and climate.

Left alone, farmers allocated what’s best for each area.

In my time, the No. 1 area for cows moved from Nodaway County at Maryville in Northwest Missouri. Cow herds went to Lawrence County, Mount Vernon, in Southwest Missouri. South has more grassland. Northwest has better crop land. Farmers figured this out. We don’t need government making farming decisions.

Russia proved long ago that a state-led farming doesn’t work. Hundreds of farmers making individual decisions do best. Commonsense and profits guide them.

Crop farmers deserve a shout out, even a book. Yields per acre continue to rise. At the same time a recent surge in planting cover crops helps protect soils. At the same time, cover crops capture carbon dioxide from the air to put it back in the soil, not the sky.

So many stories to tell! I need a few more years to help tell them.

Tell your story to Big thanks to you who like the idea of reading books and looking up words. What a surprise.


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