For love of dove


It’s Sept. 1—opening day of dove season—and 20 hunters are posi­tioned around the perimeter of a freshly mowed, mature sunflower field on Don Dettmann’s farm in Mokane, Mo.

Shots are fired. Shouts follow.

“Over the top!” “Was that you?” “Did you get him?” “Good shot!” “Whose bird was that?”

Spent shotgun shells litter the ground under 19-year-old Marissa Ziebarth’s feet, near several birds she’s harvested this morning. It’s her first dove hunt, and Ziebarth is learning the ropes from her boyfriend, Tyler Cooper, a National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) forester.

“I’ve never shot anything that moved before! I was thrilled,” she said. “It’s tough but really exciting.”

This mentored dove hunt was one of 16 such events held across Missouri in 2019 to introduce the sport to area youth, men and women. The NWTF, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, the Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Missouri Department of Conservation work with private landowners such as Dettmann to make these hunts possible.

“Dove hunting is one of the best experiences, especially for first-time hunters,” Cooper said. “The weather is usually always bearable. You don’t need a lot of special gear, so it’s not expen­sive. Shells are cheap. You get to shoot a lot. If you’re on a good sunflower field, you’re not bored. You can go with a bunch of buddies, so there’s a lot of camaraderie. Not to mention, if you do kill some doves, they’re tasty as can be.”

In the mentored-hunt program, contributions from the NWTF and MDC pay for fertilizer, seed, herbicide and con­tracting costs to establish the sunflower fields. In return, the landowner allows the local NWTF chapters to host three dove hunts on each field. Dettmann belongs to the NWTF’s Callaway County unit, known as The Kingdom of Callaway Limbhangers.

“This is my sixth year doing this,” Dettmann said. “I start way back in March and put in over 200 man-hours in this sunflower field—all for opening weekend. But it’s worth it to watch a new hunter’s eyes get big when that first dove flies by and they take a shot at it. They may go through a whole case of shells and only get a couple of doves, but they have a ball doing it.”

For his eight-acre field, Dettmann said preparations started with a burndown, and then he disked and tilled the ground two weeks later. Then the field was fertilized and sprayed with a pre-emer­gent herbicide. Dettmann used a two-row planter to sow the sunflower seed. When the flowers were 4 inches tall, a post-emergent herbicide was applied to kill any new weeds.

“By late July, the field was in full bloom,” Dett­mann said. “Some of the flowers were over 10 inches wide and full of seeds.”

The flowers matured around the second week in August, and Dettmann used a brush hog to create “runways” in the field and scatter seed on the ground. By then, finch and doves had started to feed on them. A few more runways were cut three days before the first hunt on Sept. 1.

“Don has one of the better fields in our pro­gram,” said John Burk, NWTF’s district biologist for Missouri and Illinois. “On opening day, the field was in perfect condition, and the birds were in there thick. It’s a turnkey deal for him, and a real good partnership for us.”

By the end of opening day, nearly 300 birds were harvested on Dettmann’s farm between the morning and afternoon hunts. The field was at capacity with 11 new hunters, both adults and youth, along with their guardians and assigned mentors.

“My father died when I was 5 years old, so he wasn’t around to teach me to hunt,” Dettmann said. “When I was around 10 or 11, the husband of one of my mother’s friends took me duck hunting in Chillicothe. It was one of my most memorable moments. When I learned about this mentored hunt program and how it focused on youth, I wanted to be part of it. I’ve al­ways liked the idea of helping a kid who wants to hunt but just doesn’t have a place to go. That’s why I do it.”

This field’s for the birds

With their towering stalks and brilliant yellow rays, sunflowers are as beautiful as they are useful. These showy members of the daisy family not only add a vibrant splash of color to the landscape, but they also create wildlife-friendly habitat and a hunting haven, espe­cially for migratory and resident doves.

“A field of sunflowers is an all-around fun, recreational opportuni­ty,” said Adam Jones, MFA Incorporated natural resources conservation specialist. “It’s a great food plot for attracting wildlife, and the seed is nutritious food source, especially for bird species. When managed and manipulated properly, it can provide a concentrated, high-quality hunting environment.”

If dove hunting is the goal, sunflower plots of around 10 acres are ideal, Jones said, but even a few acres will suffice if positioned in the right spot.

“Typically, an open landscape is more attractive to the birds, and ridge tops tend to work better than bottom land from a flight path standpoint,” he explains. “Make sure there is a water source close by and adjacent perching locations, whether natural or artificial, such as trees or power lines. The birds want to fly off to perch and rest for a while, and then they’ll fly back in to feed. If you’re looking to sit there and have a good shoot, creating that traffic is important.”

Growing sunflowers to the scale for successful hunting takes careful planning and management, said Jones. It all starts with sound agronomics.

“You need good seed-to-soil contact and decent fertility,” Jones said. “Sunflowers don’t require a lot of fertilization, especially if it’s a food plot, but the basics have to be there. Follow soil test recommendations for best results.”

Controlling weeds

Sunflowers produce much more seed when planted with wide spacing (15-inch to 30-inch rows) and are not crowded. How­ever, this also provides conducive conditions for weed growth between the rows. Many dove field managers use a pre-emergent herbicide before planting and post-emergent her­bicides after planting to control weeds in their fields.

“Weed control is not only important to reduce competition with the sun­flowers but also from a dove foraging perspective,” Jones said. “The birds are not only after the sunflower seed, but they also want bare ground to feel safe enough to utilize the food source. They’re looking for a place that’s easy to fly into, land, get everything they need and then move off. If you have a really weedy patch, you’re just not going to get the bird use that you would in something that has good weed control.”

To achieve desired results and avoid injury to the sunflowers, it is critical to follow the label for application rates and usage instructions. The list of approved herbicides isn’t nearly as long as for other crops such as soybeans and corn, Jones said.

“Some of our good residual herbicides are labeled for sun­flowers, but there’s not a lot of over-the-top options,” he said. “Weed control is something that needs to be considered and planned up front.”

Selecting varieties

Weed control also plays a role in variety selection. The most common sunflower grown for wildlife is Peredovik, a black-oil variety, but several seed companies offer hybrids as well. Sun­flower seed is also available with Clearfield technology, which makes the plants tolerant to over-the-top applications of Beyond herbicide to control post-emergent weeds.

“The hybrids and Clearfield varieties allow more weed-con­trol options, but there’s a cost difference in the seed,” Jones said. “The hybrid sunflowers tend to do better than common black-oil sunflowers, but both can be successful if managed properly. Your local MFA carries all of these options.”


In this region, sunflowers should typically be planted in late April or early May to ensure the plants are mature and seeds are dried down in time for dove season, which runs from the first of September until the end of November in Missouri. If dove hunting isn’t planned, sunflowers can be planted as late as early July and still provide food for many other wildlife species.

Jones said sunflowers can be conventionally planted or no-tilled, as long as a good seedbed is established. Sunflowers will grow on a wide variety of soils, but usually perform poorly in wet areas. The plant population should be similar to corn. If seeded too densely, the sunflowers will compete with each other and produce smaller heads, which means less food for wildlife.

“The seed can be broadcast, but that really complicates things,” he said. “It’s hard to get a good, consistent stand. Plant­ing with a row planter is typically the best option. Most of the time you can use a unit designed for corn, but you can also get plates specifically designed for sunflower seed.”

Preventing deer damage

In areas with moderate to high deer densities, heavy browsing can prevent sunflowers from producing seed and sometimes leads to stand loss. Young sunflower plants and developing seed heads seem especially palatable to deer, Jones said.

“Deer damage is a real issue with sunflowers,” he explained. “When they’re real small, just like a soybean, the deer will eat them vegetatively. But when that head first starts to emerge, they can go through and eat all of them. I’ve seen fields that are just sunflower skeletons. You’re not producing any seed then.”

A properly designed electric fence can repel deer and deter damage. Commercial food plot fences are available, but Jones said a simple system can be easily installed with just poly tape, hotwire posts and a charger.

“The electric fence either needs to be super tall, or it needs to be two-tiered, which works really well,” he said. “Essentially, it messes with the deer’s depth perception. They’re not sure they can clear the fence because they can’t really tell how far away the second fence is. It’s just the way their vision works. That’s easier than building an 8-foot-tall electric fence.”

Managing the hunt

As dove season approaches, mowing strips throughout the field will scatter seeds on the ground and facilitate bird retrieval during the hunt. Manipulating sunflower fields in this way is legal, not considered baiting, Jones said. Leaving part of the field standing will also benefit other species, such as songbirds, quail and turkey, he added.

“If you have a patch large enough that you can sacrifice a couple rounds on the outside, mowing some even three or four weeks ahead of time could be beneficial to get a pattern of doves using the field before the season opens,” he said. “I like to keep the strips fairly wide. Shooting and retrieving birds over these mowed areas makes it way easier, and you’ll have less loss.”

During the season, Jones recommends landowners man­age hunting pressure by allowing rest days between shooting sessions. A break in the action gives the birds a chance to get comfortable about returning to the field.

“Get your limit. Get out. Let it rest for a few days, and you can hunt it again,” Jones said. “That way, you can continue to get birds to use that field and have really good hunts multiple times during the month of September or even into October.”

Ultimately, growing sunflowers is about more than just seed production, Jones said. It’s about growing interest in outdoor sports.

“We’re seeing a large decline in hunting population because many of our hunters are aging,” Jones said. “That’s a big deal, because hunters pay for conservation through licensing and fees. For that model to perpetuate, we need more people to take an interest in getting outdoors, and dove hunting is a good recruitment opportunity.”

For more information or details on sunflower planting and management, contact your local MFA or AGChoice personnel or Adam Jones at 573-876-5246 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Calming the chaos

As the 2020 calving season approaches on their northwest Missouri farm, Matt and Belinda Hess feel a mixture of an­ticipation and apprehension.

After all, last year was rough. Bitter cold, heavy snow and persistent mud in late winter and early spring created a stressful time for their newborns to arrive. When the first calf hit the frozen ground on the Hesses’ Maryville farm March 3, 2019, the high temperature was only 12 degrees and dipped below zero that night.

“We both love calving season because there’s nothing better than seeing that new baby born and then bucking and kicking around,” Belinda said. “But we sure are hoping this year is easier. There was about a 10-day window last March that was really, really cold, and if you didn’t catch the calves when they were born, they weren’t going to survive—it didn’t matter if it was 10 at night or 4 in the morning. Neither of us wants to deal with that again.”

The Hesses aren’t alone. Many beef producers across the Midwest struggled during the spring 2019 calving season. The difficult weather began to affect cattle the previous fall, which was unusually wet, and many cows entered winter with less-than-ideal body condition. By the time their calves were born, colostrum qual­ity was compromised. Poor nutrition coupled with the harsh environment meant the new­borns had an uphill battle from the start.

“We consider ourselves extremely lucky,” Belinda said. “We had a neighbor up the road here who calves out about 350-400 head every year. He lost over 70 calves last year because of the weather.”

On Hess Farms, the 80-head herd typically calves in a two-month window in March and April. During the worst of the weather last year, however, 33 babies were born in about 11 days—stretching Belinda and Matt to their limits.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “Our cows are about 13 miles up the road, and we were checking them every three or four hours. We were bring­ing every calf into the barns, trying to warm them up and work with them to keep them alive. It was unreal, the circumstances we were dealing with.”

As the Hesses shared their frustrations with others in the close-knit ag community, a friend and fellow cattle producer, Mace Coston, encouraged them to try MFA’s Shield Plus. This proprietary product, administered as an oral drench, contains concentrated colostrum extract to help ensure newborn calves get optimum levels of essential nutrients. It also provides probiotics to improve gut health, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids as a quick source of energy and therapeutic levels of vitamins A, D and E to help prevent oxidative stress.

“He said, ‘You guys need to go get this stuff from MFA. I’ve never seen anything like it,’” Belinda said. “So, we called up to our local MFA here in Maryville and asked them to get us some. Even though we aren’t afraid to try new technologies and advancements, I admit we were a little skeptical. But we were also ready to try anything at that point.”

Shield Plus proved its value right off the bat. Soon after they’d gotten a bottle, Matt discovered a newborn bull calf, face down in the mud, nearly lifeless. The Hesses had little hope it would survive.

“This thing looked like it had about 10% chance of mak­ing it,” Matt said. “You could tell it was breathing, but it was covered in mud and eyes completely rolled back. We got it in to the pickup with the heater on, and I gave it a couple of squirts of Shield in the mouth. Instantly, this lifeless calf kicked. Just unbelievable. Both of us were amazed.”

“It was to the point to where we had to decide: do we fight for this one or just put it out of its misery?” Belinda added. “That’s the hardest decision any farmer has to make. For us that day, we had the Shield, so we wanted to try to save that calf. Neither one of us likes to give up. But I said it would take a miracle to make this calf live. Actually, it just took some Shield. From that point on, I was a believer.”

That calf not only survived but thrived—and so did 83 other calves born on Hess Farms last spring. They only lost two calves; one was premature, and the other was a twin. Most of them received a dose of Shield Plus in that critical first 12 to 24 hours to make sure they had enough energy to nurse their mothers.

“They need that colostrum, but a lot of times you can’t get the calf going, especially when they get cold and chilled,” Be­linda said. “We tried to catch every calf and give it a shot of Shield. It gave them enough gumption to get up, eat well and jump around like little calves will do. You could take a calf that didn’t want to even move, give it Shield, and the next thing you knew, you couldn’t hold onto it. It’s like liquid gold.”

The all-natural blend of ingredients in Shield Plus stimu­lates the immune system and increases appetite, said Mike Spidle, MFA Incorporated strategic feed specialist. Prebiotic fiber feeds beneficial microbes in newborn digestive tracts, while probiotics supply “good” bacteria and yeasts. Botanical extracts also provide antimicrobial activity against invading bad bacteria, and high-quality immunoglobulins reduce fever and inflammation.

“You can’t be sure that a cow’s colostrum is giving a calf what it needs, and you can’t know the gut environment of every animal in your herd,” Spidle said, “but you can make sure every baby gets the same start to life.”

Shield Plus also has spray-dried egg antibodies that help combat scours, a benefit the Hesses can confirm.

“A lot of people had scour problems last year, and we didn’t have any,” Matt said. “I firmly believe it’s because Shield kept their digestive system healthier. I wouldn’t want to go through another calving season without it.”

Ultimately, he said, Shield Plus helped calm their chaotic calving season, which immediately precedes the spring planting rush on Hess Farms. Row crops make up the majority of the operation, with Matt and Belinda working full time on the farm together with help from their children, Jerrica, 14, Grayson, 12, and Triston, 9. The family raises some 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans in addition to their 80 head of cattle.

“It would be hard to be a farmer today without loving the challenge, because everything is a challenge,” Matt said. “And that’s why Shield worked so great for us. As intensified as we are in row crop, Shield is what helps us take care of the cows. With the problems we ran into last year, it got the calves going and alleviated a lot of our worry.”

Belinda, who is active in her community and on social media, continually shares the challenges and successes of her family’s agricultural endeavors with fellow farmers and the non-farming public alike. She considers Shield Plus one of the success sto­ries, and she’s been spreading the word to other cattle producers in hopes of helping them experience its benefits.

“Farmers, we have to rely on each other,” she said. “We need to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes, that’s the only way people find out about things like Shield. Just in the last month, I’ve had three guys reach out and ask what the product was that we liked so much last year. I tell them ‘Shield,’ and send them straight to MFA. It’s definitely something every cattle producer should have on hand.”

For more information on MFA Shield Technology, talk with the livestock specialists at your local MFA or AGChoice or visit online at mfa-inc.com/products/feed/shield.

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Show of strength

Show stick in hand, 12-year-old Treyton Burchette skillfully guides his Berkshire hog with all the confidence of a seasoned livestock exhibitor. The young man exudes showmanship with his cowboy boots, blue jeans, button-down shirt and gleaming trophy belt buckle—his hard-earned award for win­ning Grand Champion Market Hog at the 2019 Benton County Fair in Benton­ville, Ark.

Trey’s parents, Eric and Jessica Burchette, observe proudly nearby. Big brother Tyler, 16, an accomplished livestock show­man himself, stands ready to assist if necessary.

There’s one other set of attentive eyes on Trey. His loyal service dog, Tosha, is keeping close watch with­out interfering in the show demo. The nearly 2-year-old chocolate lab is Trey’s constant companion, best friend and fierce protector, trained to get help and keep him safe from seizures caused by a rare form of epilepsy.

“Treyton was born totally healthy and then had his first seizure at 2 years, 4 months, in my arms,” Jessica said. “At first, doctors told us it was probably febrile, because he had a fever at the time, and we’d never see them again. But he had another one, and they kept getting worse. Nobody could figure out what was wrong. They couldn’t get the seizures to stop, and he wasn’t respond­ing to medications. He went from totally healthy, meeting milestones, no issues whatsoever, to this.”

After being referred to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, Trey was diagnosed with Doose Syndrome, or MAE (myoclonic astatic epilepsy). The condition is so rare that it only affects one out of every 1,000 children with epileptic disorders. Char­acterized by frequent generalized seizures, Doose Syndrome has no known cause and is often resistant to medication, making it difficult to control.

“He’s failed multiple types of treatments. We’ve been in nu­merous ambulance rides. We’ve been life-flighted,” Jessica said. “We’ve really been through the wringer with it. Last summer [2018], the doctors told us we’d run out of medicine options and were just going to have to roll with the seizures as they come.”

To help Trey cope with his condition, the neurologist recom­mended a seizure alert dog. The Burchettes embraced the idea, despite the fact that the price would be about $15,000.

“At least if he was going to seize, we wanted him to be safe as possible,” Jessica said. “Having a service dog gives him as much normalcy as he could have with his condition.”

The family was connected with On Command Canine Training Center in Joplin, Mo., where Trey met Tosha. She was 4 months old at the time and just getting started with her training.

“They put me in a room and said they were going to bring in the puppies one by one,” Trey said. “They said the dog would choose me. I wouldn’t choose the dog. They’d bring in a puppy, and it would play with me for a little while, and then go play with my mom or dad or my brother. But when they brought Tosha in, she came straight to me, and in five minutes, we were both asleep on each other.”

“The connection was unbelievable,” Jessica added.

Insurance doesn’t cover the cost of service dogs, so the com­munity did instead. Friends and neighbors in the Burchettes’ hometown of Gravette, Ark., hosted a chili supper and auction in October 2018 at their church, Harvest Baptist, raising more than enough money to bring Tosha home. More than 350 people attended the fundraiser, including members of their “show family” such as MFA Livestock Specialist Greg Davis.

“If there is a silver lining what Treyton has to go through, it’s seeing the love and support of the community that he has built around him,” Greg said. “We’re all blessed to know him. In his own way, he makes everyone around him better.”

With the cost covered and her training complete, Tosha joined the family last May and spent the summer traveling their show circuit, which includes county and regional fairs and cul­minates in October with the American Royal in Kansas City. The Burchette boys exhibit Berkshire and crossbred hogs, purchas­ing some of their animals from Eichorn Showpigs in Troy, Ohio, and raising some themselves.

Tosha also started fifth grade this past fall with Trey at Gravette Upper Elementary School. Classmates treat her “just like another kid,” Trey said. In fact, Tosha even had her “offi­cial” school photo taken for the yearbook along with her fellow students. The adorable pup’s portrait gained national notoriety when Principal Mandy Barrett shared it on social media. The post went viral and led to several stories on local and national television stations.

“This is Tosha—she is the Certified Service Dog for one of our fifth-grade students with seizures,” the post said. “She sat so nicely for her very first school pictures last week! We are proud of how well she has acclimated to the culture here at GUE...and how well our students have welcomed her into our family.”

Tosha is trained to sense when a seizure may be imminent. And when Trey had his first epileptic episode at school in November, Tosha did exactly what she was supposed to do— got an adult to help and then rushed back to her boy, nestling herself under his head to protect him from harm.

“She knows before I do if I’m going to have a seizure,” Trey said. “She’ll go find someone and kind of bump up against them, like almost knock them over, to let them know. Then she’ll come back to me and try to keep me from hitting a hard surface.”

That particular seizure lasted 32 minutes and ended in an ambulance ride to the hospital. Since then, the seizures have be­come worse and more frequent, making Tosha’s presence even more valuable. In December, the family had an extended stay at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock for more testing in hopes of a solution.

“We’ve learned to just take it one day at a time,” Jessica said. “It’s hard seeing him go through these and being able to do nothing. It breaks my mama heart.”

She said showing pigs is the perfect pastime for Trey, who can’t be cleared to play sports because of his seizures (even though he’d like to play football and basketball). Epilepsy hasn’t hindered the young man’s success in the show ring, and having Tosha to monitor him at the shows allows Mom and Dad to give him more freedom to “just be a kid.”

“He’s at the age where he likes to run and play with his friends, and Tosha will play, too,” Jessica said. “It’s peace of mind for me, knowing that he can go have fun, but if he seizes, she’s going to get an adult. All the families we show with are aware of his condition, and if Tosha comes up to them, they know something’s wrong.”

Trey has been showing pigs since age 5, when he entered his first show at the Benton County Fair. He’s following in the foot­steps of Tyler, who began showing in 4-H at age 9 and is now a sophomore and FFA member at Decatur High School. The collection of awards between the two brothers has been steadily growing ever since.

“It takes a lot of hard work,” Tyler said. “It means working with your pigs every day, any chance you get. But it’s worth it. And the friends you make are usually more lasting than the ones you make at school.”

Their parents are quick to point out that the boys have full responsibility for their livestock projects.

“We’ve been to shows where some of the kids don’t even know what their pigs are until they get there. That’s not teaching them anything,” Eric said. “With our kids, we put good pigs in their hands, and we provide them with good feed. The rest is up to them.”

At Greg’s recommendation, the family started using MFA’s new Ring Leader show diets last year. The results were exceptional, Eric said. Both Tyler and Trey won top placings at nearly every event they attended.

“We fed the Ring Leader without any additives or supplements,” Eric said. “We are definitely pleased with it. We did very well this year.”

The family is especially proud of their wins at the 2019 Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, Mo., where Trey took home the Overall Supreme Champion title in both the junior and open shows. To win the premier award two days in a row—with two different judges—is quite an achievement, Greg points out, attributing Ring Leader’s high-quality nutrition and the Burchettes’ attention to high-quality swine genetics in creating this winning combination.

“They do a good job of picking good, sound pro­ductive pigs, and Ring Leader is going to give them the performance to go all the way,” Greg said. “It’s good-quality feed at a more affordable price than a lot of others on the market. And Ring Leader also has Shield Technology, which is important for keeping animals healthy when traveling the show circuit.”

This year, the Burchettes plan to attend some winter shows for the first time and compete at the World Pork Expo in Indianapolis in June. Their aggressive show schedule means a lot of travel and time away from home, but the family believes the benefits go well beyond belt buckles and trophies.

“Showing keeps us pretty busy, but it also keeps Trey and Tyler out of trouble, helps them build good relationships with other kids and gives us something to do as a family,” Eric said. “It also teaches them responsibility and that they have to work hard to get results. Those are the kinds of lessons that will serve them well in life.”

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