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MFA’s whole-farm approach helps Byron Stine build his beef business

When the Stine family transitioned from dairy to beef cattle in 2001, the switch wasn’t a huge stretch. A lifetime of milking cows had provided the livestock knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully build a beef operation.

“We weren’t making any money in the dairy and decided it was time to sell out,” said Byron Stine, who, at the time, farmed alongside his father, Jim, and maternal grandfather, Dallas Spears. “Beef cattle were a natural fit. We had learned a lot from the dairy business about how to be in the beef business: how to recognize good genetics, how to raise good hay, how to keep our cows healthy and breed back.”

That know-how served the family well as they began to establish a cow-calf operation on their farm in Clever, Mo. Dallas passed away a few years after retiring from the dairy, but Byron and Jim continued to raise beef cattle and high-quality alfalfa and grass hay. Through the years, the father-son team even garnered several top awards in hay contests at the Ozark Empire Fair and Mis­souri State Fair. At age 84, Jim recently sold his herd but continues to help with hay production on the farm.

“Forage is key in the dairy business,” Byron said. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s beef or dairy, cattle need good hay to grow well. We used to grow a lot of alfalfa, but we’re moving toward more grass hay. Regardless of the type of forage, you want the highest quality you can get, and we try to do everything right when it comes to our hay and pastures.”

The desire to improve forage production led Byron to seek the advice of MFA livestock experts David Yarnell, sales manager for District 6, and Keith McDan­iel, livestock key account manager for the Greater Ozarks group in southwest Missouri. Their partnership began a few years ago with a simple forage analysis and has grown into a whole-farm approach.

“We started working with Byron on his hay samples, and then it’s evolved from there,” Keith said. “He would call and ask for recommendations. We’d visit on nutrition and fertilizer. Now he’s got some Nutri-Track acres signed up. He participat­ed in the Health Track program last year.

We’ve taken baby steps to bring an entire program together that will add value to his operation.”

Before trying Health Track, MFA’s age-and-source-verified preconditioning pro­gram, Byron had typically marketed calves straight from their mamas at about 550 to 600 pounds. Health Track protocols, on the other hand, call for a 45-day weaning period along with giving two rounds of vaccinations and using MFA-recommend­ed feed. While proper animal health and nutrition were standard on the Stine farm, the weaning process was new.

“It was my first time doing something like that, but I wanted to get the most out of my cattle that I could,” Byron said. “Keith and David were very helpful in keeping me guided along the way with everything that I needed to do so. Health-wise, the cattle got along really well. No problem. No sickness. They did great in the program—better than my expecta­tions.”

Byron enrolled 66 head from his 2020 calf crop into Health Track. Currently, he’s working to build up his herd but says he will use Health Track again when calf numbers increase.

“I’m planning to keep this year’s heifers for replacement, but next year, I’ll have a bigger group that are close together and more uniform, and I’d like to try it again,” Byron said. “I really think the Health Track program is a selling point, and the guidelines you follow are good practices, whether you sell calves through the pro­gram or not.”

In general, Byron said, working with the MFA team has helped improve his operation, from fertility recommendations to a nutrition plan that includes Ricochet mineral, Performance First supplement tubs and Cattle Charge feed.

“That Cattle Charge is the best thing I’ve ever seen for getting calves started on feed,” Byron said. “They’ll eat that stuff from Day 1.”

The cattleman admits he usually con­siders any new product or program with a healthy dose of skepticism but said he can’t argue with proven results.

“I’m definitely one of those guys who has to see it to believe it,” Byron said. “But Keith and David put it on paper and got a program together for me, and it’s worked great with my cows and calves. I’ll still challenge them, as far as how much things cost and things like that, but once they show me that, yes, this will work, I’m willing to give it a try.”

While it may have taken some convinc­ing, Keith said the successes on the Stine farm are proof that persistence pays.

“It took us six to eight months to get him to sign up his calves on Health Track,” Keith said. “But when he did, he was tickled to death. Hesitant? Yes, but he was happy with the end result. A lot of people are like that. They want to see those numbers and know that we’re not just filling them full of biased information. My everyday goal is to do something to help the farmers, and when they’re successful, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

The farm continues to go through an evolution as Byron and his wife, Sherrie, look to the future. Over the past few years, he has been working to streamline the farm’s breeding season so that all calving occurs in a more pre­dictable window. He’s now gotten that window down from 90 days to 60 days and would love to narrow it to 45 days.

“Last spring, we had 65 calves in 60 days,” he said. “I try to be done calving by March because by then we’ll be back into our hay crop. That way, the calves are out making a living for me while I’m out there doing other things.”

Byron said he wants to continue expanding their herd, which currently consists of nearly 100 cows, by keeping 20 or so of the best heifers each year. With his own acreage plus pastures on his parents’ farm, Byron said he figures there’s capacity for about 150 head.

“My goal is to keep improving the herd, culling the old ones, keeping the good young ones, and eventually start selling replacement heifers,” he said. “Next year, I’d also like to raise some yearlings up to the 750- to 800-pound mark. Then, when I get to the market, I’ll have something of high value.”

Over the last two decades, Byron said he’s not only learned just how differ­ent beef production is from dairy farming, but he’s also come to realize just how much the two have in common. And it goes well beyond proper nutri­tion, quality forages and stringent animal health practices.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a new calf born, watching it grow and then taking it to the market,” Byron said. “I just love being around good cattle and knowing I had a part in making that happen.”

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