Many youth livestock exhibitors measure success by the number of ribbons and trophies they accumulate. Alex and Caroline Rhode, however, literally measure their success in pounds.
Winning rate-of-gain awards is the ultimate goal of this young brother-sister team, who take a solid business approach to their 4-H and FFA livestock projects. They choose their show heifers and steers from the family farm in Prairie Home, Mo., and raise them to be returned to the herd or the freezer at the end of the season.
“I enjoy showing my own cattle and then bringing them to the market,” 16-year-old Alex said. “It shows what we can do here on the farm. I get to see that calf from Day 1 all the way to my plate.”
Their father, Ryan Rhode, MFA Agri Services retail sales representative, and his brothers raised and showed cattle in a similar fashion when they were growing up. In fact, Ryan said he exhibited livestock from the time he was 8 years old until he was 21, the last year to be eligible to compete as an FFA member.
“When I was Alex’s age, we were breaking six steers and three heifers to lead every year,” Ryan said. “Dad had a farrow-to-finish hog operation, 150 mama cows and 1,500 acres of row crops. He didn’t have time to mess with it, but he encouraged us to show. So that was our hobby.”
Like his father, Alex, a sophomore at Prairie Home High School, began showing when he was 8. He’s a member of the Boonville FFA Chapter. Caroline, a sixth-grader and 4-H member at Zion Lutheran School in Lone Elm, started two years ago at age 10. They will both show Angus-cross steers and bred heifers in this year’s competitions, including their local Prairie Home Fair and the Cooper County Fair. They also plan to show the heifers at the Missouri State Fair.
The Rhode siblings picked out their show animals in February and will work with them daily throughout the show season, which truly gears up for them in July. Their feeding program includes a ration of cracked corn and MFA Super Beef 40 Pellets for the steers and MFA Trendsetter Developer for the heifers along with quality free-choice hay.
“Rate of gain is what I really like to shoot for,” Alex said. “They may not look the best, but they’ll gain better and grade out better than the other steers. I’ve had a steer gain almost five pounds a day, but they average about 3.5.”
The objective, Ryan said, is to put as many pounds as possible on the steers while developing the heifers to be full but not fleshy.
“When choosing their projects, we want them to be 750 to 800 pounds on March 1,” he explained. “We’re going to feed them for 120 to 150 days. We’re looking for a finished product that’s ready for the packer in July. That’s not everyone’s strategy, but it’s a strategy that works for us.”
By taking this approach, Alex and Caroline have more to show for their efforts than awards at the end of the show season. They have the satisfaction of knowing they raised cattle that can not only compete in the show circuit but also be quality examples of sound animal agriculture. That’s important, Ryan said, because both siblings want to have their own herds some day. They’re already on their way to that goal.
“That’s the way I was brought up, and that’s what I want to teach my kids,” Ryan said. “If you go out and buy your animal just to win a show, that’s not really teaching them anything. If you raise your own and demonstrate what you can bring to the market, it gives you a different aspect of life.”
But awards are nice, too, and the Rhodes have won their fair share. Last year, Alex exhibited the champion Charolais female at their local fairs and won his class at the state fair. He also competed in the American International Junior Charolais Association National Show and won his class. Both he and his sister placed in the top three for rate of gain in 2016 and 2017, and they earned champion showmanship awards in their respective divisions, too.
The top point of pride for Ryan and his wife, Beth, however, is the fact that both Alex and Caroline have been named “Herdsman of the Year” at the Cooper County Fair. That award is not given simply for the animal’s appearance or the show performance but a culmination of factors that speak more to the exhibitor’s character.
“The Herdsman award takes into account how you treat others and your animals, how dedicated you are, how you take care of your animals and how you show them,” Ryan said. “Knowing both our kids have won that award tells me that what we teach them here at home carries with them. It thrills me to see them doing so well.”
Premiums and Contest Cash
Using MFA feeds can pay off in more ways than one
Not only do MFA feeds help get 4-H and FFA livestock projects in show-ring shape, but they can also earn exhibitors extra monetary rewards.
The MFA Feed Division’s Livestock Project Premium Program offers special incentives to 4-H and FFA members who use MFA feed for their show animals. The Rhode family participates in the program every year. Last show season, both Alex and Caroline earned a $50 premium for their beef cattle, and Caroline took home $80 in contest cash for placing second in the county rate-of-gain competition.
“It may not seem like a huge payback, but it means a lot to these kids, and it’s something MFA can give back,” said their father, Ryan Rhode. “I promote this program when I visit with other people who are showing at the fair. MFA has all the products you need, so why not get on board?”
This year’s project premiums are $50 for a steer, beef heifer or dairy heifer and $20 for a market hog, market lamb, goat or bucket calf. Contest cash is awarded for first through fourth places in county rate-of-gain competition and for grand champion and reserve grand champion at the Missouri State Fair. Other state fair and national carcass contests may qualify for cash rewards as well.
MFA also offers a “Project Journal” to help exhibitors keep detailed records about their show animals.
To be eligible for rewards, animals must be fed a qualifying MFA feed product from weigh-in at recommended amounts throughout the project. There is one project premium and one contest cash prize allowed per participant.
Visit http://www.mfa-inc.com/Youth.aspx to find the forms, a list of qualifying feeds, program guidelines, the project journal and more information.