Star of the show

WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF MFA’s Ring Leader Show Feeds, livestock exhibitors will have new options in high-quality rations for their show animals.

Although MFA has offered show feeds for swine, cattle and goats in the past, the Ring Leader brand will be the company’s first complete line formulated specifically for show animal nutrition and performance, said Mike Spidle, MFA Incorporated strategic feed specialist.

“Show animals are different from production animals, and that’s why we have different feeds for them,” Spidle said. “We’re looking at what’s best for the animal, what will help them perform best in the ring and what will give them the best appearance—the whole nine yards. Ring Leader is all-encompassing nutrition.”

First to be launched in the Ring Leader line are swine feeds, which replace Ralco products that MFA previously carried. The two companies ended their business relationship in 2018, and Ralco feeds are no longer available through MFA Incorporated.

Instead, the MFA Ring Leader swine feed lineup will provide comparable products with superior formulations, Spidle said.

“We wanted to make sure that our producers are still able to get show feeds from MFA that will keep them competitive in the ring,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about going someplace else to get a different product. Ring Leader feeds will perform as well or better.”

Ring Leader swine feeds will be available in eight formulations for various stages of a show pig’s life, including starter feeds, grow-finish feeds and gestation-lactation feeds.

“We’ve made huge improvements in swine diets over the past few years,” said Tom Lattimore, MFA Incorporated senior swine specialist. “With our Evolution feeds, we’ve seen increased performance in average daily gain, number of pregnancies and overall health of the animals. Evolution is the foundation for Ring Leader feeds, but they’re the next step up specifically formulated for the show animal.”

MFA’s Ring Leader Show Calf and Superb Goat feeds will be available under the new brand in early 2019, Spidle said. The Feed Division also plans to add poultry, rabbit and sheep feeds under the Ring Leader umbrella.

All Ring Leader feeds will contain MFA’s proprietary Shield Technology, an all-natural blend of essential oils and additives to help prevent sickness, mitigate stress and promote performance in livestock.

“Shield is important for keeping animals healthy in the show circuit,” Spidle said. “By moving animals around, getting them out of their habitat and exposing them to other animals, there’s always a risk of them getting sick or going off feed. Having Shield Technology in these show diets will help minimize those problems.”

Like other MFA premium feeds, Ring Leader formulations will be “locked in” for quality and consistency, Spidle added.

“When you look at value-added products, you want performance,” he said. “These show diets are set up for performance and to enhance the genetic capability of those animals. The formulas will stay consistent, so that you’ll get the same thing from any MFA feed mill.”

Ultimately, the development of the Ring Leader brand of show feeds is an example of MFA’s commitment to building long-term relationships with its customers—in this case, young livestock exhibitors and their families, Spidle said.

“We have a whole group of young people out there showing, and we want to help them win,” he said. “More thanRingLeader that, we want to help them understand the concept of raising an animal, taking care of an animal and getting the most performance out that animal. Those skills will help them later on in life, especially if they go back into farming.”

Ring Leader show feeds are available at any MFA or AGChoice location. For more information, visit with your local feed specialist or online at

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Ease the transition from farm to feedlot

When calves go from the farm to the feedlot, the transition can be quite stressful. Both weaning and shipping stress the animal, and then they are subjected to a new and different environment. Freshly weaned calves are more susceptible to respiratory disease and nutrition-related illness than preconditioned calves that have been given vaccinations, a nutritional background and time to adjust to weaning before being shipped to a new location. In fact, freshly weaned calves have double the treatment costs at the feedyard than preconditioned calves, which have lower rates of morbidity and mortality.

A preconditioning program starts before weaning. Many calves receive their first round of vaccinations at “branding,” around 60 to 100 days of age. The recommended vaccinations are outlined in the MFA Health Track program. These vaccinations should be repeated 14 to 21 days before weaning to provide higher antibody titers, a measure of the concentration of antibodies in the blood. These vaccinations help the immune system be ready to face diseases the calf is likely to encounter in the next phase of production.

Creep feeding is a tool that can be used prior to weaning. It helps ensure calves receive proper nutrition and eases the transition of calves from one feed source to the next. Creep feed during the last 45 days before weaning to prepare calves for post-weaning rations. Creep feed should contain about 14 percent crude protein and 70 to 75 percent total digestible nutrients. In MFA’s feed lineup, examples of appropriate creep feeds are Cattle Charge or Full Throttle.  

Calves should have unlimited access to forage at this time for proper rumen function. You can introduce calves to creep feed by giving a limited amount of the ration to their mothers first. Scatter some of the feed around the creeping area so mama cows will loiter. Plan on weaning and preconditioning approximately two months prior to shipping, typically 45 days. This reduces separation stress and provides time to monitor for illness.

Weaned calves walk fencelines, trying to escape to their mothers. Placing feed and water troughs perpendicular to fencelines will help maintain their intake and start bunk breaking. “Spilling” feed, such as hay, over the bunk edges will catch their attention, leading them into the bunk. Ensure proper bunk space, which is one to two feet per animal. This particularly helps timid calves.

Calves may struggle to find water in troughs, especially if they are accustomed to rivers or streams as a water source. If so, overflow your water troughs, flooding the area around the trough and encouraging the calf’s curiosity. Having fresh clean water for calves is important for rumen development.

In both pre-weaning and post-weaning phases, provide calves with a high-quality mineral supplement. Critical trace minerals are copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. They are important to proper immune function and vaccination response. Providing some minerals in chelated form can improve mineral status of calves during preconditioning. Vitamin A, D and E will need to be supplemented. The same is true for sodium and perhaps calcium, phosphorus or magnesium.

By being introduced to concentrated feeds and feed bunks, calves will experience less stress at the feedyard, and they can adapt quickly. Calves that come in prepared are more likely to perform better and have a carcass with a better quality grade. Make the transition process as easy as possible for the animal by using a preconditioning program that covers vaccinations, nutrition management and environment. Along with raising healthier and happier calves, they will also be more productive and profitable.

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Intake matters when maximizing feed efficiency

Knowing how much a cow eats each day is the single-most important element in formulating cattle diets, but consistently and accurately measuring dry matter intake is a challenge. When livestock producers are asked how much the cows are eating, a common answer is often “all they want.”

Many factors affect how much feed a cow eats. It could be management, such as crowding at the feedbunk, cow comfort, time cows spend standing, feed quality, abrupt diet changes or water availability. It might be the weather: rainfall, temperature changes, humidity, wind chill and mud. Production factors and activity level also affect the amount cows will eat.

To make calculations more challenging, dry matter intake is a continuous variable. Just when we have determined the DMI for a particular time, something changes—such as cow movement, breeding, heat stress or forage moisture content—and the DMI changes, too.

Maintaining and monitoring dry matter intake are critical because cows have nutrient requirements that need to be covered to support their milk production and metabolic functions. Plus, feed cost is a principal expense, so producers don’t want to under-feed or over-feed cows.

Inaccurate moisture determinations on high-moisture feeds can also be a challenge. If using wet byproducts, haylage and corn, it is not uncommon to have 90 to 100 pounds of as-fed wet feeds in the diet. Moisture determinations that are 2 to 3 points off represent a couple pounds of dry matter difference. This can be significant.

Suppose that the ration has 50 percent corn silage, as fed, and we think it is 62 percent moisture, but it is actually 65 percent moisture. This means the cows will be eating less corn silage dry matter and more dry matter from the other forage and concentrate. If we are 2 pounds short on the corn silage dry matter, those 2 pounds would support somewhere around 4 pounds of milk production. Protein should not be as big a problem, but if the corn silage needs to be an effective fiber source, and we are short on effective fiber, this also might be troublesome for the percentage of fat and rumen function.

The more feed a cow can consume, the more milk she can produce, and maximizing the nutrient density improves the herd feed efficiency. A common benchmark is to have the average milk-to-feed ratio above 1.5 to 1. Fresh cows should have efficiencies of 1.7. Ratios below 1.5 could mean that feed intake is limiting and that improvements are likely.

Scales on feeding equipment must be accurate and checked and/or calibrated on a timely basis. Weighbacks of feed refusals are also critical in assessing nutrient intakes. Cows eat fairly predictable amounts of feed depending on their size and stage of lactation.

Neutral detergent fiber level and digestibility (NDFd) will have a profound impact on total intakes. Changes in NDFd can impact how much forage a cow is able to consume and digest every day. There can be significant differences in NDFd from one forage to another even if neutral detergent fiber and protein levels test similarly.

While computer modeling is sophisticated enough today to deliver very accurate calculations in support of a given amount of milk production, the models don’t always agree on predicted dry matter intakes. Errors in predicted and actual intakes make quite a difference in ration costs. Accuracy of dry matter intakes can also be improved with multiple production groups. These groups have smaller variation of milk production, so there is less variation in feed intake.

Bottom line, it is imperative to watch feed intake and milk-to-feed efficiency. The best strategy is to find the point where both are maximized.

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Feed to fuel your hunt

Training, exercise and correct nutrition are essential to ensure your working dog’s optimal performance. Food is fuel, and working dogs will run far better and avoid fatigue on a premium, highly digestible diet designed to keep the muscles working and the blood flowing.

Working dog breeds are typically strong, agile and enduring. However, they may run greater risks of injury and stress. The correct nutrition ensures that the digestive system works as efficiently as possible, enabling the immune system to play its primary role in protecting the body, rather than dealing with food ingredients that hinder metabolism.

Promoting healthy growth through an appropriate diet from puppyhood allows adult working dogs to develop strong bones and joints and a well-muscled frame. Strong neck and shoulder muscles allow for a greater lung capacity, better endurance and necessary power for carrying out his duties or sporting activities. Sensible feeding may not prevent injury but may reduce incidences or alleviate symptoms. A strong, healthy body that is protected by an equally strong, healthy immune system has greater healing capacity, too.

For working dogs, the immune, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems are stressed during any period of prolonged physical exertion. Mental health, too, should not be overlooked, and the nervous system may also benefit from nutritional support to help to promote alertness and improve concentration levels.

Fitting feed

Timing and frequency of feeding is important to ensure that your dog has sufficient energy at times when he needs it. Avoid heavy meals immediately before and after exercise.

In the stomach, digestive enzymes start breaking down the food to enable nutrients to be absorbed later in the digestive sequence. As the food moves through the small intestine, proteins and fats will be absorbed. The large intestine further breaks down nutrients—in particular, dietary fibers and carbohydrates. Finally, water is removed in the colon and the last amounts of fat absorbed.

You will know if the diet is not suitable. For example, digestive odors and poor stool quality are early signs. Loose stools or diarrhea may suggest that the feed is causing digestive upset. Coat condition can suffer if the fat level and fatty acid balance are not suitable, and skin conditions and ear problems can indicate food allergies.

When moving to a new diet, it is important to switch slowly to be sure that changes are accepted well. Try the new diet for at least a month before making a final decision on how it is working. Some changes will take this long to appear in the coat and general condition.

Balancing act

All dogs require a balanced diet that provides sufficient energy for the work they are bred to do. Naturally, a working dog will require more calories than a family pet. For peak performance, the diet must not only provide the fuel for energy but also optimal levels of essential nutrients that the body requires to function efficiently.

The energy requirement of working dogs depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise as well as environmental conditions. Energy-dense foods allow increased nutritional demands to be met during the season without having to feed large volumes of food that take longer to digest and metabolize.

Fats contain approximately twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates, and studies on canine athletes have shown that fats improve endurance. In dogs, 70-90 percent of the energy for sustained work comes from fat metabolism, and only a small amount from carbohydrates. This is why it is important to provide optimal levels of high-quality fat for fuel.

Protein is a crucial nutrient, and again must be highly digestible. Chicken has one of the highest biological values, meaning that it is easily broken down to support the body’s structural and functional demands.

Working dogs may also benefit from functional ingredients such as natural antioxidants. The adverse affects of stress on both human and canine health are often underrated. Working dogs are particularly subject to physical stress due to the demands of their sport. When the body is under stress, free radicals are released. Antioxidants work against these potentially harmful effects.

Moderate levels of carbohydrates are needed for working dogs to promote sustained energy. Human athletes often dramatically increase carbohydrate intake to improve the availability of glycogen for anaerobic energy metabolism in muscles.

Research in dogs is limited, but studies so far have concluded that such glycogen loading is ineffective in canines.

High-performance dogs require higher levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin, due to increased demands from oxidative stress. Make sure your working dog’s diet includes an optimal level.

Commercial complete diets are the most popular for working dogs due to their convenience and economy. It is an absolute must, however, to ensure that only high-quality, highly digestible ingredients are incorporated into the working dog’s diet.

More information about choosing the right food for your working dog is online at Visit your local MFA or AGChoice retailer for a trusted selection of nutrition and pet health products such as the Victor Super Premium Pet Food line.

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Consider these steps to ‘drought-proof’ your farm

It’s no secret that Missouri has been at a rainfall deficit since late summer 2017. At press time, nearly 70 percent of the state was still in drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor for Sept. 13. Drought intensity and resulting impacts vary widely, but every producer in Missouri likely experienced some decline in production due to drier-than-average conditions. Whether it’s reduced hay yield, dormant pastures, decreased crop yield or lack of water for livestock, many farmers and ranchers had to alter short-term plans in response. When the drought breaks, it will be time to think about long-term recovery in preparation for the next drought.

I spent quite a bit of time across the state this summer talking to producers about drought impacts on their farm and mitigation strategies to consider. Many producers told me they weren’t feeling the effects quite as much as their neighbors. For these folks, the common theme was that they used the 2012 drought as a learning experience and have worked to “drought-proof” their operation since then. It’s not that they didn’t have any ill effects this summer, but the situation wasn’t as serious for them as it was for so many.

In contrast to western states where water is severely limiting, we are typically spoiled with more than 40 inches of rainfall on average each year in Missouri. Because annual rainfall of 40 inches is more than enough to grow a bumper crop and plenty of forage, we aren’t forced to be as efficient at capturing and using that moisture as we should be. Improving water infiltration into the soil, establishing reliable water sources for livestock and keeping forages healthy and diverse are all things to consider when thinking about guarding your operation against drought.

Keeping residue and actively growing plants on your fields and pastures at all times will reduce runoff and increase the amount of water that makes it into the soil profile. No-till, minimum-till, cover crops and rotational grazing are all practices that will increase infiltration over time.   

If you rely on ponds to water livestock, you would be wise to add a few water tanks that are fed by a well or rural water. Even if you don’t use them all the time, at least you have an alternative when the ponds get low. Frost-free waterers can also save you time and hassle during the winter by keeping you from chopping ice. If you only have ponds, consider getting them cleaned out to increase the volume of water they can hold. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) have programs right now to assist with the expense of cleaning out ponds that were built with cost-share money originally. Contact your local SWCD Office for more information.

Diversifying forages to include some native warm-season grasses or warm-season annuals is a good idea for any livestock operation to fill the cool-season grass “summer slump.” Warm-season forages are beneficial every year but are especially valuable during a drought. Their extended root system can access water deep in the soil profile.

Having a grazing and fertility plan for your pastures will keep them healthy and productive and,  as a result, they will be impacted less by drought. A fertility program such as MFA’s Nutri-Track utilizes grid soil samples to make fertilizer recommendations that get the right product in the right place. This increases the health of your plants on every acre, making them more productive and improving their stress tolerance.

A rotational grazing system also helps pastures be more productive and resilient. It keeps the plants from getting grazed too short and gives them periods of rest so they can recover before grazing again. Among other benefits, this allows the roots to stay robust for better access to water and nutrients.

None of these things are the silver bullet to drought conditions, but if implemented they will slowly make your operation more “drought-proof” for the future.

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