Feature

ACME chute helps Jackson FFA members learn best practices in animal health

When Jackson High School’s agriculture instructors were looking for cattle management equipment to provide students with practical, hands-on experience in animal health, they had a few must-have features in mind. They wanted a working chute that was safe, simple, portable and accessible.

They found all of that and more in the ACME Lariat chute from MFA.

“When I was in school, we didn’t have a good chute, and it was always a safety issue,” said Jimmy McCormack, head of the school’s Agricultural Sciences Department. “Here at Jackson, we wanted quality equipment to keep our kids safer while also being able to learn the correct methods of working cattle. We considered several different chutes, but this had everything we were looking for.”

McCormack and fellow ag teachers Sara Green and Jennifer Horn advise more than 100 FFA mem­bers in a student body of around 1,600. The school offers both agricultural and industrial technology courses and recently introduced a veterinary assis­tant program.

“Our students are getting further removed from the farm,” McCormack said. “It used to be that everybody had a few cows, and that’s not the case anymore. A lot of the kids that are in the vet program are in it because they want to work with small animals, but they also need to be exposed to working with large animals, too. Having this chute will help us develop a more well-rounded student.”

Along with its use in the classroom, the ACME chute will be available for students to borrow and for use at community events, Green said. That’s why portability was so important, she added.

“The students can take the chute to their farms and use it for their own show cattle or FFA proj­ects, and we’re also planning to take it to our local fairs, if they happen to need one,” Green said. “We want kids to be able to work their animals safely, and they can’t all afford to have chutes as nice as this one.”

New to MFA’s Farm Supply offerings, the Lariat chute is de­scribed as the “workhorse” of the ACME line of cattle manage­ment equipment. Weighing around 2,500 pounds, the Lariat is built to handle everything from sheep to cattle. Carl Bentlage, MFA Farm Supply product manager, said the chute provides top-of-the-line features without an extravagant price tag.

“We’ve been carrying the ACME brand for about a year now, and we’ve had no issues whatsoever,” Bentlage said. “The com­pany’s tagline is ‘Made for Cattlemen By Cattlemen,’ and you can see why. The Lariat chute has all the capabilities that are needed by the vast majority of farmers I talk to—including our MFA live­stock specialists and key account managers. They tell me it has everything that is needed out on the farms they visit.”

Among those sought-after features are:

  • Wide curtain-style head gate
  • Built-in nose and neck bar in head restraint
  • Parallel squeeze down to 10 inches
  • Moveable handle that can be operated from anywhere along the chute
  • Cabinet-style openings and shot doors on the side
  • Attached palpation cage
  • Slotted rear sliding door to keep cattle moving forward
  • Rump bar for both cattle and calves
  • More than 40 grease fittings for superior lubrication and longevity

The Lariat chute is designed to be stationary, but an easy-to-use transportation kit is available. The next step up in the ACME line is the Rancher unit, which is the Lariat chute with an 8-foot adjustable alley. At the top of the line is the Cattle­man, which adds an 8-foot sweep tub to the Rancher unit. The standard versions are manual, but hydraulics can be added.

“The ACME chute is made so that the beginner as well as farmers who have been working cattle for their entire life can use it,” Bentlage said. “It’s low-stress for the cattle and safe for the user. The parallel squeeze brings both sides in at the same time and same measurements. Plus, both side panels open with doors on the top two-thirds and bottom third. You can access the animal wherever you need to and work securely and safely.”

The Lariat’s unique headlock device is also a useful feature, Bentlage continued.

“It secures the head so if you’re putting on tags, deworming, vaccinating, whatever you need to do, the animal isn’t going to move, and you’re not going to get hurt,” he said.

Four Jackson FFA members christened the school’s new chute last month by working five young Holstein bull calves and three show steers on the farm of Austin Bodenstein, a Jackson High sophomore. In the chute’s first use, the students and their teach­ers said they were impressed by its flexibility and simplicity.

“I like that there are so many ways get to the calves and that one person can stand in the back and work the headgate, so you don’t scare them as they come through the squeeze,” Bodenstein said. “And the head catch is great. It kept the calves really calm while we worked them.”

Providing a less stressful experience for the cattle—and the students—is another benefit of having quality equipment for the school’s Agricultural Sciences activities, Green said.

“A lot of kids aren’t aware of how humanely farmers treat their animals,” she said. “They only see the negative images that are out there. This helps us put out a positive image of ani­mal health practices. Everyone can see that our cattle are safe. They’re not stressed. They’re content.”

ACME chutes are available exclusively at MFA locations in the cooperative’s trade territory. For more information, visit with the livestock experts at your local MFA.

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Dunn Ranch Prairie is rebuilding the ecosystem of the prairie, one project at a time

Exploring and mapping the Missouri River in the early 1700s, French explorer Étienne Veniard de Bourgmont described what he saw as “the finest country and the most beautiful land in the world; the prairies are like the seas and filled with wild animals…in such quantities as to surpass the imagination.”

Thriving on this country’s sacred and plentiful grounds were the indig­enous societies that existed thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. In the Grand River Grasslands, the Southern Sioux, Osage and Missouria tribes stewarded the tallgrass prairie, which supported a diverse array of flora and fauna.

Until its statehood in 1821, one-third of Missouri had a highly diverse prairie sys­tem. Today, more than 200 years later, less than 51,000 scattered acres of unplowed prairie remain, with approximately 26,600 acres protected by private and state agencies, according to the Missouri Natural Heritage Database.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global conservation group, is doing its part to help protect and restore these native grasslands. TNC owns and manages the 4,000-acre Dunn Ranch Prairie near Hatfield, Mo. The prairie is part of the 70,000 acres that make up the Grand River Grasslands con­servation area.

“We are trying to continue a diverse species presence and be resilient against the new climatic patterns in a sustainable manner,” said Kent Wamsley, TNC’s grasslands and sustainable agriculture strategy manager in Missouri, who has been site manager at Dunn Ranch for three years.

Some 150 years ago, when the Dunn family homesteaded land in Har­rison County, about 15 million acres of native grassland grew in Missouri. Most of the prairie had disappeared by 1950, making the 1,000 acres of unspoiled prairie on the Dunn farm a precious commodity. In the 1970s, TNC learned of this gem and offered to purchase 2,281 acres from the late Billie Dunn Meadows and her husband, Frosty. It took almost 30 years before the family decided to sell in 1999.

Dunn Ranch Prairie is now a successful research center and model for sustainable agriculture. For more than 20 years, its work has included soil health research; pollinator studies; reintroducing bison, prairie chickens and the Topeka shiner; saving water sources; bird surveys; and vegetation and grazing research. 

“There has been so much progress here,” Wamsley marveled while driving through the ranch. “Just think of the early settlers on horseback, riding through the prairie. Switchgrass and big bluestem, 7 to 8 feet tall. It must have been quite a sight and an overwhelming experience.”

Native grasslands

As soon as the land was purchased, TNC began converting the fescue fields to native grasses and forbs. Prescribed burning is used as a management tool to restore soil nutrients, control tree seedlings and invasive species, encourage seed germination and promote the growth of native plants.

“These grasslands store carbon in their roots, help clean our water and protect from flooding and erosion,” said Keith Ben­nett, TNC’s conservation practitioner who specializes in seed collection and prairie restoration. Bennett has worked for 16 years on Dunn Ranch Prairie.

Bennett is the caretaker of more than 300 species and grasses and possesses an impressive, self-taught knowledge of plant life. “I know the Latin as well as the common names for all the native species here. I might not pronounce the Latin name correctly, but I know it,” he laughed.

In the spring and summer, Bennett oversees the seed collec­tion. He does harvest some seed with a combine, but most is done by hand.

“We have some rare native plant species here,” Bennett said, “so it is important to have an organized collection and track all our plant life.”

Across the prairie are mounds that, at first glance, seem to be bison dung. They are not. These are ant mounds, which are beneficial to the tallgrass prairie. Through their tunneling, bur­rowing and excavating, ants affect soil properties and help plant seeds, Bennett explained. They’re a healthy ecological compo­nent of tallgrass prairie management and restoration efforts.

“We have more than 30 species of ants—some are tiny, and others are as big as a pickup,” Wamsley joked.

Bison

In reality, the largest inhabitants of Dunn Ranch are bison, rein­troduced to the prairie in 2011 from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The herd, which began with 35 genetically pure bison, now numbers around 140.

“I’m going to say 143 bison right now, because we started having calves a couple of days ago,” said Wamsley, pointing out the new red calf running alongside his protective mother.

The bison are another management tool to help maintain a biologically rich and vital landscape. Seed pollen is carried in the bison fur, which helps pollinate the plants and flowers. By stomping and lying on the ground, the bison create wallows, which fill with rainwater, allowing other species to thrive. The bison urine and dung enrich the soil with nutrients such as nitrogen, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and calcium.

“When you look across our landscape, a patchwork develops because of the way the bison graze,” said Wamsley. “They don’t have the Pac-Man philosophy of eating everything in front of them. You will see the bison grazing in one corner of the ranch. Then they decide to go clear across to another pasture. They walk to that area, just walk. No grazing along the way.”

A bison’s diet primarily consists of grasses, encouraging the growth of forbs in the prairie and helping to maintain the eco­system balance. The land on Dunn Ranch Prairie provides all that the bison need to flourish, Wamsley said.

“The only time we intercede is in the fall when we do a roundup,” he said. “That’s when we perform a health check, tagging and processing the young animals. We use mineral on occasion, depending on what we are seeing with the herd. But other than that, we are hands off.”

Prairie chickens

In addition to the bison, Dunn Ranch is home to some of the last flocks of greater prairie chickens in Missouri. In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens roamed throughout the Midwest. Due to over-hunting and changes to its prairie habitats, the number has dropped to fewer than 100 in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“This spring, the chickens have been pretty few and far be­tween on the ranch,” said Wamsley. “For some reason, they are scattered around the area on the adjacent fields and farms. We are probably around 75 to 100 birds between here and south­ern Iowa.”

There is a viewing blind and a field camera located on one of the leks on the ranch. In the past year, a viewing platform was built off the barn north of the leks, hilltops where the males assemble during the mating season each spring and engage in competitive displays that attract females.

“We wanted a way to bring nature to the people, so we also offer a live stream from the prairie,” said Wamsley. “The prairie chicken’s unique and ancient mating rituals are always a pop­ular attraction. These leks are ancestral sites that the chickens come back to, generation after generation. We don’t have a full understanding why they choose this spot. Some people think it’s because it allows the sound to travel across the landscape. And indeed, you can hear the male chicken’s low, haunting boom for a mile and a half, if the wind is right. The sound reso­nates throughout the prairie.”

The males’ eerie booming calls, unique dance and fights with other males are part of the mating ritual so the hens can select the most fit mate, Wamsley explained.

“All the males show up, puff up their chest and act real tough,” he said. “They inflate their air sacs on the side of their head, put up their feathers in the back, make themselves look big­ger, and then boom at each other. The largest, most impressive male on the lek is usually the one who ends up getting the females.” 

Wings and water

Also benefiting from the restored prairie are migratory birds and butterflies.

“We are a stopover for many dif­ferent songbirds, and monarch but­terflies also use the site during their migration,” Bennett said. “There’s a lot of diversity here.”

Other birds that can be seen in the area include the bobolink, Bell’s vireo, dickcissel, grasshopper spar­row, Henslow’s sparrow, northern harrier and short-eared owl.

Land restoration can’t happen without returning the water­ways to a healthy condition, Wamsley said. TNC and the Mis­souri Department of Conservation are working to bring back the Topeka shiner to Little Creek, a prairie headwater stream at Dunn Ranch Prairie.

“We have a lot of threatened aquatic species in our waters,” Wamsley added.

The Topeka shiner was listed as endangered in 1999. The minnow-like fish, less than 3 inches in length, is a silvery-green color with a dark stripe on the side of its body. During spawn­ing, the male has fins that turn bright red-orange. They can be found in small streams with cool, high-quality waters and sand or gravel substrate.

TNC is nearing completion on a project that involved re­building two culverts to help bring the waters and the Topeka shiner across the ranch’s property. The stream banks are being repaired, and vegetation will be planted to improve and sustain the shiner and other aquatic life.

Sustainable grazing

Just south of Dunn Ranch Prairie is Little Creek Farm, 217 acres of once-overgrazed pasture with inadequate fencing that allowed the cattle to roam into the creek. TNC purchased the farm in 2017. In partnership with a local farmer who leases the property, TNC is working on sustainable grazing strategies to increase cattle production and the farmer’s bottom line, while responsibly managing the land.

TNC installed electric fences to keep the cattle out of the creek, and watering systems were added.

“We have individual areas that we can shut off, so we don’t have to run electricity to the whole area. It’s pretty snazzy,” Wamsley said. “MFA did soil sampling so we could see the health of our soil. Adam Jones, conservation specialist at MFA, had the forage analyzed. There are 12 different pastures, and we have a control plot in each of them so we can analyze the vegetation. That’s going to help us determine which forage is working best.”

At Little Creek Farm, new grazing strategies are tested, and native grasses are part of the forage mix.

“We are looking at the big picture,” Wamsley said. “With this program, we are making sure we have quality forage that will benefit cattle production, while making sure our soil and water are in good condition. We are trying to balance both sides of the coin here.” 

In 2018, TNC and MFA, along with other leaders in the agricultural industry, collaborated to launch a 4R Nutrient Management program in Missouri. It focuses on fertilizer management and conservation practices to im­prove soil health and limit runoff into rivers and streams.

The 4Rs refer to the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place. Jones works closely with TNC on this project.

“We would like to see a system where managed grazing can be shown to be healthy for a natural landscape,” said Jones. “Some folks get nervous with conservation entities like TNC, but with this demonstration farm, you will see that conserved lands provide a benefit to all. Farmers and conservation organizations can work together.”

Dunn Ranch Prairie and Little Creek Farm projects serve as a model for other pasture and prairie systems in the region, Bennett said. “There is a good balance for wildlife to develop and thrive here in all our little pock­ets and pieces of habitat,” he added.

Wamsley said TNC’s short-term goals are to con­tinue using the lands to promote conservation and ranching strategies, such as controlling invasive spe­cies and woody plants and using prescribed burning.

Long-term goals include working with private landowners to implement conservation ranching and deploying new technology to benefit wildlife, soil, health and water quality while providing farmers and ranchers an economically viable way of life.

“We hope to build Dunn Ranch Prairie into a more resilient landscape as we deploy new strategies based on the scientific research,” Wamsley said. “It is criti­cal to continue to use grazing, mechanical treatment, fire and other management strategies to diversify the landscape so that it can be a permanent home or stopover location for all forms of birds, insects and land animals.”

Visit online at bit.ly/DunnRanchPrairie for more information.

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Sustainability scores big at Lebanon Feed Mill

MFA’s Feed Mill in Lebanon, Mo., has been award­ed the “Highest Sustainability Score” in the commercial dry feed division of the American Feed Industry Asso­ciation’s 2021 Feed Facility of the Year program.

The award was announced Jan. 26 at the Interna­tional Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta.

“All of our feed facilities do a great job and are good stewards of resources,” said John Akridge, director of MFA Feed Operations and Animal Health. “So it comes as no surprise that Lebanon would be recognized for those efforts. MFA feed mills rank with the best.”

AFIA—the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to representing the business, legislative and regulatory interests of the U.S. animal food industry and its suppliers—has been recognizing excellent feed manufacturing facilities through this program since 1985. In 2021, the association began issuing top industry awards to facilities in four categories: com­mercial dry, liquid feed, premix and ingredient, and integrator. In addition, the highest scores in safety, quality and food safety, productivity and efficiency, and sustainability were recognized.

The Lebanon Feed Mill was honored for having a positive environmental footprint, taking into consid­eration such criteria as the facility’s sustainability and recycling programs, energy consumption and use of human food byproducts in manufacturing.

“As we learn more about sustainability for our industry, we want to help manufacturers as they seek to improve on their efforts,” said Gary Huddleston, AFIA’s manager of feed manu­facturing, safety and environmental affairs. “The sustainability section was new to the Feed Facility of the Year application in 2021, and we are expanding those questions for 2022 to make participation in the program even more beneficial.”

Typically, some 60 to 70 facilities, including those operated by some of the industry’s biggest feed manufacturers, enter the annual competition, Huddleston said. A little more than half of those fall into the dry feed category, in which MFA captured the top sustainability score.

“To win this award in its first year is really something special,” said Mark Johnson, MFA feed milling operations manager, who hosted a celebration dinner for the feed mill crew on April 14.

The mill’s 14 employees manufacture around 60,000 tons of product annually, including bulk, bagged and textured feed. Like all of MFA’s feed mills, the Lebanon facility has also earned the AFIA Safe Feed/Safe Food certification. This designation is only given to those facilities demonstrating best-in-class manu­facturing practices that protect workers from harm and produce safe, wholesome livestock feed.

“This award was an honor for us,” said James Nutter, feed mill manager. “I would like to thank my crew for the dedication and work they have done to ensure quality of the feed we manufac­ture and the service our customers receive.”

MFA Incorporated is among AFIA’s more than 650 mem­bers, which include livestock feed and pet food manufacturers, integrators, pharmaceutical companies, ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers and other companies that serve the feed industry.

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