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Anstine family helps high-stress calves earn high price at auction

Every year, thousands of high-stress calves pile out of livestock trailers at the Anstine farm in Holden, Mo. They come from all over the country and as far away as Montana—more than 1,000 miles in some cases. The calves are hungry. They’re tired. And they’re stressed.

That’s where Jeremy Anstine comes in. He and his wife, Dawn, along with their three children and farm man­ager, John Hunter, run diversified stocker, backgrounding and 450-head cow-calf operations. They take those high-quality yet highly stressed cattle and deploy a regimen of rest, nutrition and animal health to build them up from their arrival weight of 400 to 550 pounds to 800 to 900 pounds at auction.

This year alone the Anstines processed more than 2,700 calves.

“You’ve got to get them straightened out and back on track,” Anstine said. “We have good protocols on medicine, vaccinations and a special mix of feed that we use to get them there.”

That blend of feed is hand-fed and tailored to every calf that comes through his chutes. What’s so special about it? It’s a combination of MFA’s Cattle Charge feed with prime prairie hay, designed to help calves wean, rest, build immunity and start naturally gaining weight.

“When newly received calves don’t want to eat, then you’ve got problems,” Anstine said. “The biggest key is to keep new calves eating, keep them drinking and keep their stomachs full. The calves seem to want the feed right away and start eating on it quick.”

But it’s not all diet, Anstine added. It’s also rest. After the calves are received at the farm, they are given up to three days to recuperate from their long, stressful journey on a livestock trailer. Then, depending on the individual pen of cattle, they will be vaccinated based on risk, treated for internal and external parasites, implanted, branded, ear-tagged and sorted to size.

“I would highly recommend a protocol that delays processing at arrival and allows the cattle to rest and start moving them toward grass,” Anstine said. “If you don’t have the death loss or sickness in the long run, it pays off huge in the end.”

As they get acclimated to their new surroundings, the calves are provided palatable, low-starch, nutrient-dense feed, with vitamins, minerals and medication in a concentrated form to help prevent illness and jump-start their performance.

“Their morbidity and mor­tality numbers are some of the best I’ve seen in the industry,” said Jon Roberts, the MFA livestock specialist who has worked with four generations of the Anstine family to max­imize the selling potential of their cattle. “To enjoy the ex­tremely low incidence of sickness and death that the Anstines’ livestock have, they have to be doing everything right.”

Almost all the decisions about nutrition and animal health on the Anstine farm are dependent on risk factors such as the history of the cattle, inbounding condition, weather and length of transport, Roberts said.

“October is a terrible month for bawling calves, and we just processed about 1,400 of them,” Anstine said. “I’ll be honest with you, we probably only have two at the max that we’ve had to re-treat, and that’s it. So, we feel like we’re on the right track.”

The operation has come a long way since Jeremy and his wife, Dawn, married and started the farm from scratch 22 years ago. Like many cattle businesses, the Anstines started small and grew.

“It’s been a journey,” Dawn said. “I grew up crop farming. So, at the beginning, when Jeremy said we needed to buy 40 cow/ calf pairs, I almost had a heart attack. But Jeremy is a master at this. He’s a genius with livestock, and I trusted him—didn’t make writing that initial check any easier, but I trusted him. Now, 22 years later, we’ve built up a heck of a livestock enterprise here.”

Roberts said the secret to their success is strategically sourcing high-quality cattle with the potential to perform and then giving them the right environment and care to thrive. As livestock specialist for the Anstines, he helps bring out the best potential for their calves by serving up all the experience, technology and resources MFA has to offer.

“It isn’t just one thing that’s made the Anstines successful,” Roberts said. “Their business model is to make a significant investment in high-quality genetics, and, to quote Jeremy, ‘make sure they never have a bad day.’ Letting newly received calves rest and recu­perate helps a lot, but you have to follow that up with getting them eating and strong. The Anstines have a comprehensive system with good-quality feed ingredients that deliver a cost-effective gain.”

Received cattle at the Anstine farm start out on grass hay and MFA Cattle Charge 2X, which contains chlortetracycline and sulfamethazine (CTC-sulfa) and requires a veterinary feed direc­tive. Depending on how the cattle progress, other feedstuffs on inventory are incorporated into the ration, Roberts explained.

“Before MFA had much to do with their backgrounding operation, the Anstines were successful and doing an outstand­ing job, but they are constantly trying to do a little bit better,” Roberts said. “One thing they thought they could improve on was their receiving and inbounding ration on their high-stress, immunologically naive cattle.”

Cattle Charge is just one product in MFA’s lineup of scientifically formulated livestock feed. The pelleted version of Cattle Charge is most widely used, but it is also manufactured in meal form. Several medicated options are available, including versions with ionophores Rumensin and Bovatec. It is also available with Shield Technology—an all-natural blend of essential oils, probiotics and additives to help prevent sickness, mitigate stress and promote performance without requiring a VFD.

“We began by testing their forages and feedstuffs on hand and had our ruminant nutritionist, Marc Epp, come out and tour the facility and operation,” Roberts said. “The Anstines have extensive infrastructure and natural resources to contribute to the business, and I wanted to make sure we took full advantage of what their farm had to offer.”

Anstine and Roberts identified some production objectives and went to work formulating a nutrition program to meet those objectives, based on calf risk assessments during the receiving period.

“We want to feed them pellets in the morning and then come back at noon with treated hay from Kansas in the bunks,” Anstine said. “It’s in big squares, and we just flake it off for the calves and lay Cattle Charge over the top.”

The Anstine livestock operation has a lot of moving parts— and mouths. MFA Cattle Charge products play a big role in the health and wellbeing of their calves, Roberts said. Since incorporating Cattle Charge into the receiving ration for their highest-risk cattle, the Anstines have seen intakes happen faster, at higher levels and with more consistency across each pen.

“Before Cattle Charge, we used some grain or some other kind of starter feed,” Anstine said. “One group of calves would just take off right away, but the next group over wouldn’t eat as much as we wanted them to. With Cattle Charge, it seems like everything’s more consistent.”

After the backgrounders recover from the stress of transporta­tion, the Anstines have the flexibility to move from the receiving ration to other types of feed. Within a two-week period, Roberts said the inbound cattle have transitioned away from Cattle Charge and are on their background ration.

“It really depends on the weather and how temperatures fluctuate,” Anstine explained. “I’ve added covered bunks and aprons, which helps protect the cattle from weather. But we’ve also had really good luck with putting salt and mineral blocks beside the cattle waterer. It’s close to their bunks, and it draws their attention, so we can pull them to the feed a lot easier.”

For most of the backgrounding period, the Anstines provide the calves with small-grain, sorghum and alfalfa haylage along with dry hay and corn silage. In addition to produced and purchased forages, they also use distillers grains, corn gluten and corn along with a QLF liquid supplement and a vitamin, mineral and ionophore package.

MFA monitors the nutritional status of these feedstuffs through routine lab analysis, and Epp balances the ration to hit the average daily gain objectives that Anstine has outlined to reach his target sale weight and date.

“Acceptance of feed at the arrival bunk is far too critical to chance on low-cost ingredients that would otherwise work well on a calf that has completed the preconditioning phase,” Rob­erts said. “The results achieved by the Anstines in their back­grounding operation have occurred by paying attention to every possible detail and constantly refining their system.”

Anstine said a top priority is to get these calves out on grass. After the preconditioning process, they move to stockpiled pas­ture and supplementation through the winter and graze in the Flint Hills of Kansas through the spring and summer.

The ultimate goal is to have calves that are happy, healthy and primed for finishing when the Anstines get ready to sell them at auction. The marketing side of the business is something the family knows well. They run the Kingsville Livestock Auction barn near their farm in Holden, and Jeremy serves as auctioneer. The Anstine team works together to keep the auction running smoothly and the livestock moving through. It has given them a unique wis­dom about backgrounder sales and profits.

Describing the Anstine family as both “aggressive and progressive,” Roberts said they have been profit­able operating in this environment as a result of their dedication and commitment to detail.

“The stocker-backgrounder busi­ness has the potential for high risk, but it also has potential for high reward,” Roberts said. “The Anstine family has made the investment and commitment where it counts to ensure success.”

For more information about MFA’s lineup of complete cattle feed, visit Beef/CompleteFeeds.

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