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Building a game plan

Usually before or after game days, sports teams will watch film of themselves playing to understand mistakes, evaluate their techniques and notice things they had not seen while in the heat of the action.

Coaches typically lead these film sessions, pointing out certain things to the entire team to encourage them to critically think about how to make themselves better and defeat opponents.

MFA takes a similar approach when designing custom nutrition plans and solutions for the specific needs of each farming operation. Just as athletes examine film and collaborate with coaches to improve future performance, MFA livestock experts work one-on-one with produc­ers to review what went right, what went wrong and build a game plan for next season.

“At the end of the day, we all want to be profitable,” said cattle producer Herb Schnitker of Middletown, Mo. “MFA helps us put a plan together and figure out how to maximize performance, both when things are going well and when things are tough and challenging.”

Farmers are notoriously self-sufficient, and Schnitker is no exception. He collaborated with one of his daughters to design a carefully thought-out cattle-working facility that includes wide alleyways, privacy pens, a calving corral and an office. There are even multiple cameras that rotate to monitor when a cow begins the calving process. From his home or phone, Schnitker can keep a close eye on the new calves.

The support beams of the barn were hewn from trees cleared from the family farm to make way for a pond. The panels and gates of the facility were designed and installed as a family welding project with Flowers Fabrication in Middletown.

Keeping things all in the family has worked well, but some­times even farmers like Schnitker need a little help. Five years ago, he turned to MFA’s livestock specialist Teresa Carlson, who is now retired, for ideas to feed his growing beef cattle herd. Today, Schnitker relies on Erica Gilmore, MFA livestock key ac­count manager, and Stephen Daume, MFA livestock specialist, for a customized nutrition plan for the family’s 250 head of red and black Angus with a Simmental cross.

Schnitker said working with MFA livestock specialists has eliminated the guesswork of properly feeding his beef cattle. That partnership continues to evolve, making the family farm more profitable, efficient and sustainable for future generations.

“Erica and Stephen help me manage the nutrition side of things,” he said. “We utilize silage, and they come out and take tests so we know its nutritional content. I incorporate wet cake from the local ethanol plant, and then we develop a formula for the best nutrition. We add mineral to supplement their diet. Last year, we used a DDG (dried distiller’s grains) completer from MFA that has Rumensin. We add that directly to the silage so the calves are getting it right off the wean.”

A key component of the nutrition plan is using MFA Cattle Charge as a calf creep feed, which has not only helped increase weaning weights but also cuts down on labor of mixing rations on the farm.

“Prior to using Cattle Charge, we were making our own feed, but it was very time consuming with one per­son spending all day grinding feed,” Schnitker said. “We ran the numbers and figured with time plus the cost of the feed, it was really about the same. Partnering with MFA just made sense. It is easy for us to use the Cattle Charge. It is a quality product and gets our calves off to a good start.”

Schnitker also uses a herd management app for data entry and recordkeeping and enrolls his calves in MFA’s Health Track preconditioning program.

“For my peace of mind, the health and the quality of the cat­tle are foremost,” he said. “When they leave for the sale barn or private treaty, the buyer can rest assured that due diligence was done to maintain the health.”

To help set up each calf for success, Schnitker says that he can rely on his MFA partners, from tweaking rations to account for reduced-quality silage from last year’s drought to recommending a new vaccine, Inforce 3, to help fight respiratory diseases.

Formulating a nutrition plan is going to be different for each producer, but MFA experts can develop customized solutions, whatever the problem or issue may be. Gilmore said her ap­proach starts with each farm’s goals.

“We discuss those goals and look at what they are feeding—whether it’s for lactating cows or feeding calves,” she said. “The nutrition plan will depend on if we’re increasing average daily gain or just keeping them in maintenance condition. Working together, we utilize their farm resources and feedstuff, whether it’s corn, silage or alfalfa hay bales. Even if everything’s going well, I’m here to help the producer continue with that success.”

Like the Schnitkers, farming is also a family business at the Thomson farm in Tarkio, Mo. Ron and Shelley Thomson work side-by-side on the diversified operation, raising cattle, hay, corn and soybeans. Their son, Deyton, a business teacher at Tarkio High School, also helps on the farm as well as Ron’s 84-year-old father, Richard.

With a 260-head cow/calf herd and 2,100 acres of row crops, the Thomsons have their hands full. That’s one reason they wel­come MFA’s nutrition-planning services, which help the busy family develop new strategies for their operation, implement successful feeding and animal health programs and stay up to date on the latest products and practices in livestock and forage production.

Each fall, the Thomsons sit down with Kirk Search, MFA livestock key account manager, to evaluate the year and look forward to next season. The Thomsons take a similar approach with Ryan Kinsella, MFA agronomy key account manager, on their row-crop plans.

“It’s important to get ahead of the game,” Search said. “It not only helps with timing and ensuring inventory of the products they will need, but it also brings peace of mind and less stress, knowing we have a good plan in place.”

For the Thomsons, the yearly planning process coincides with sales of their Angus-Hereford-cross calves, which they market in mid-September. Having the performance of that calf crop fresh in their minds makes it an ideal time to evaluate and tweak feed, forage and animal health programs, Search said.

“We’ll sit down and evaluate what the calves weighed at the sale barn and how they looked, and then we’ll drive through the pasture to look at the cows, see what their body condition score is and make plans for the wintertime,” he said. “Then we’ll start making a plan for the new season in the spring. We’ll discuss minerals and protein tub options as well as how weed control worked in their pastures and hay ground and whether we need to make any changes.”

Typically, the plan includes providing MFA Ricochet FesQ Max minerals year-round, switching from versions with CTC and Altosid to nonmedicated versions, depending on the time of year. During the winter, the Thomsons set out 20% or 22% protein tubs from either CTI or Vitalix and feed MFA 20% Breeder Cubes throughout the year as needed.

“The cattle always have mineral, and the amount of protein we feed them depends on what time of year it is,” Thomson said. “When our good brome grass comes on, we won’t use as much of the protein tubs until we turn them out into the cornstalk fields later in the season. We’re trying to use our forage base the best we can.”

When it comes to forage man­agement, the Thomsons typically fertilize with SuperU nitrogen along with phosphate and potash in March and spray for weeds based on recommendations from Search and Kinsella.

“We work together really well, and they are always sharing ideas for things we should try or how to solve a problem we’re having,” Thomson said. “For example, this year, we’re changing our min­eral and using Ricochet with garlic for additional fly control. We also had an issue with Canadian thistle after we had a couple of wind turbines put in, and they disturbed the ground running their lines. We’ve worked with Kirk and Ryan both to get that under control.”

Thomson said the partnership with MFA not only helps his family continually improve their land and cattle but also pre­serve the farming lifestyle that he and Shelley love.

“It’s a seven-day-a-week job, but I enjoy raising cattle, watch­ing them grow and seeing what we can produce,” he said. “If we do make a mistake, we’re ready to make changes and make it right. I don’t know if I’m ever satisfied because I always want to improve. Working with MFA helps us do that.”

Talk with the livestock experts at your MFA Agri Services or local affiliate to start building your own nutrition plan.

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