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In this November 2020 TF magazine

FEATURES

Notice of MFA Incorporated annual meeting - link to flipbook as published.

Hometown heroes - Cover Story
Two Missouri cattle farmers and military veterans share their stories from WWII and Vietnam - Photo Gallery
by Kerri Lotven

Get the most out of new soybean herbicide traits
Plan early and often for the most effective weed-control system
by Shannon McClintock, MFA Regional Agronomist

Life in the raw
Marc and Michelle DeLong produce direct-to-consumer milk from their goats and cows - Photo Gallery 
by Allison Jenkins

Linked to history
Since the 1850s, Laclede Chain has gone to great lengths to provide quality products
-- Photo Gallery
by Allison Jenkins

Fall deworming keeps cattle clean until spring
Wipe out parasites, prevent resistance with an effective control program
by Dr. Jim White, MFA Director of Nutrition

DEPARTMENTS & OPINION

Country Corner
Keeping it real in a virtual world
by Allison Jenkins

UpFront/Blog
Economic recovery remains fragile, but rural industries show signs of improvement
Waste not, want not
XtendFlex soybeans gain final regulatory approval

Markets
Corn: Harvested bushels likely to be lower than expected
Soybeans: Price rallies pos-sible for remainder of 2020
Cattle: Third year of red ink
Wheat: Global production concerns may boost prices
- As printed via Flip Book

Recipes
A meal in itself - As printed via Flip Book

Marketplace
BUY, sell, trade - As printed via Flip Book

Viewpoint
Let’s be thankful for a functioning food supply.
by Ernie Verslues, MFA President and CEO

Closing Thought - November TF 2020
Each month our photographer and poet team up for a unique last page for the magazine.

FLIPBOOK
Click below to view the magazine as printed in a digital Flip book format.

Click to view the magazine as printed via a flip book

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Hometown Heroes

This November marks 75 years since the end of WWII and 65 years since the start of the Vietnam War.

All across MFA territory, there are veterans of multiple wars going about their daily lives. Some may talk about their military service, while others wish to forget it. In this issue, we talked to two veterans willing to share their remarkable stories.

Living legend

On June 5, 1984, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, Dr. Thomas Macdonnell sat down at a typewriter and wrote his first-person recollection of that momentous day in history. He had never spoken of his ex­periences before, though dreams of that day had often haunted him.

“I vividly remember too much, for to talk or even think about any particular second, minute or hour gives me a gut and chest feeling, which I now know medically as ‘stress angina,’” he wrote.

Known as Dr. Tommy by most, Mac­donnell will be 98 years old in January. He lives Marshfield, Mo., in the house he built with his wife, Ann, on the farm where they raised eight children together.

On June 6, 1944, Macdonnell’s boat was one of the first to hit Omaha Beach in Normandy in the top-secret Allied mission that was called Operation Nep­tune at the time. Originally scheduled to take place on June 5, when the moon was full and seas were predicted to be low and calm at first light, an unexpect­ed storm delayed the mission.

“We left Portland Harbor in Dorset, England, at 3:45 a.m.,” Macdonnell said in an interview for this article. “But Gen. Eisenhower called off the mission because the channel was so choppy. We were all seasick and wet.”

Macdonnell’s boat, known as a landing craft tank (LCT), was projected to hit the beach at 6:30 a.m., but high winds drifted the vessel east. He wrote he remembered the sounds of vast numbers of airplanes as they passed overhead to bomb the French coast and the German Army forces there. He remem­bered hearing the U.S. Navy ship bombardment that he hoped would take out most of the German defenses. He remembered double-checking rifles and ammunition and receiving hand gre­nades, gas masks, life preservers and other personal equipment.

“I landed at about three minutes after 7 o’clock in the morn­ing,” said Macdonnell, who was a machine gunner. “I started firing about five minutes after 7. By 11 a.m., the platoon ser­geant had a shouting roll call. Instead of there being 25 of us, there were only 10. I’m not even sure there were 10, just very few of us left.”

Though already morning, Macdonnell described the beach that day as dark and misty.

“We were the first boat on the beach as far as I could see,” Macdonnell said. The LCT hit a mine when it landed, wound­ing a Navy officer and killing two men lowering the ramp.

Macdonnell’s LCT carried four half-tracks, a truck equipped with wheels in the front and tracks on the back, designed to navigate rough terrain. Each machine gun in these vehicles fired 50-caliber rounds.

“It took two big, strong, 1st Infantry Division men who had come up from Africa to load the canisters on those guns,” Macdonnell said. “I had three canisters on each side of my gun, a quarter-inch steel plate guarding me in front with an opening for sights, and four machine guns.”

Macdonnell remembered unloading the vehicles from the LCT quickly and firing at any likely target, honing in on what looked to him like a “larger coastal defense railroad gun” and two machine guns atop the hill.

“My guns fired rapidly,” Macdonnell said. “Around 2,400 rounds a minute if you held them that long. You didn’t though, just for short bursts. It didn’t take but just one blast, and I had both machine guns of the German defense knocked out.”

After a short while, one of his ammunition handlers was killed, leaving them with no one powerful enough to take his place. His lieutenant said, “you’re infantry now,” Macdonnell recalled. He and the other ammunition handler grabbed their rifles and took cover behind driftwood on the beach. The cover couldn’t save his fellow infantryman.

“It was a fairly large log,” Macdonnell said. “But it was facing the enemy instead of being crossways. A rifleman shot and killed him. Hit him right in the forehead.”

A mortar knocked out the crews of the other two half-tracks, killing all but one of Macdonnell’s friends in the process. He isn’t sure what happened to the fourth truck, he said. He didn’t look back.

“I was moving forward, when a bullet hit my left hip, and a mortar hit my but­tocks,” he said. “It was a big hole, bleeding quite a lot, but I truthfully didn’t give it much concern.”

Macdonnell started up the hill to find refuge from the onslaught.

“The first place I saw that would give me some cover was a slit trench used as a latrine,” Macdonnell said. “I didn’t hesitate. I jumped in and felt the shellfire over the top of me. I remember distinctly before my right eye was a song sheet written in German and before my left was a newspaper that said, ‘Das Reich.’ It was a little messy, you might say, but it was the safest place on the beach.”

From there, Macdonnell was able to launch two rifle grenades aimed at a third machine gun. The first one was short, but the second one hit his mark. With his injuries, Macdonnell couldn’t run. He crawled to a rock where his captain and two sergeants were sheltered.

“I told them that we had to get to the observation control area, because they were blowing our boats out of the water,” Macdonnell said. “I didn’t get an order, but I did get a suggestion to stay there, where I was out of range of the Germans having a direct shot at me. But I didn’t.”

Macdonnell had noticed a light in the distance. Designated a sharp-shooter, he knew he could hit anything he could see.

“I moved into the brush where I had a straight shot at the observation post,” he said. “I could see a scope come up, just like the periscope in a submarine. I eased off a shot and knocked it out. I later learned that I took their eyes in one shot.”

Macdonnell fought like this into the afternoon. He spent the night in a large bunker with other men, shielding against sniper fire. It wasn’t until the next eve­ning that he would be evacuated to a hospital ship. After three surgeries and three weeks in a hospital in England, Macdonnell would live to fight another day.

And fight he did. Macdonnell was transferred to the 3rd Army under Gen. George S. Patton and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during the war. There, he was again wounded—this time from “friendly fire.”

“We were counterattacking close to St. Vith (Belgium), when I accidentally exploded a roadside bomb,” he said. “They didn’t give me a Purple Heart for that one because it was our bomb I exploded, but that was OK with me. I already had two.”

That incident required more surgeries and, due to his inju­ries, Macdonnell was removed from the fighting unit. But there was still much to be done. He witnessed the release of a Rus­sian prison camp in Czechoslovakia, and in Munich, Germany, he helped open the gates at Dachau Concentration Camp.

“That’s where I saw bodies stacked head to foot, foot to head, about 4 feet high and just skin and bones,” he recalled. “They were taking them to the incinerator or to a large ditch.”

Though the war officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, Macdon­nell wouldn’t return to the United States until November of that year. He’d ranked highly on the officer candidate school test, and Gen. Patton was building a cadre of trained men.

“They made me staff sergeant, but when the war ended, I told Gen. Patton’s adjutant I had done all the killing I intend­ed to do,” Macdonnell said. “I was going to go home, go to medical school, become a doctor and start saving lives instead of taking them.”

While recovering in the English hospital, he had received an acceptance letter from the University of Missouri. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he transferred to the University of Indiana Medical School. In 1950, he earned his doctorate of medicine degree and worked for the city medical department in Indianapolis where he met his wife, Ann. She was a nurse and worked alongside her husband for the 73 years they were married. She died in 2013 at the age of 87.

“I had a wonderful wife,” Macdonnell said smiling, as he re­counted a story about her cooking and one of their early dates.

Over the course of his medical career, Macdonnell delivered 4,582 babies, not including twins and triplets. He opened four hospital clinics and served as a Missouri state representative, helping to pass the Clean Indoor Air Act during his time in the legislature. He farmed, raising registered Hereford cattle. He’s met former President Bill Clinton, the queen of England and even carried the Olympic torch.

Since WWII, Macdonnell has been written about and inter­viewed many times, but perhaps the most poignant words are the ones he typed himself 35 years ago.

“War is hell!” he wrote. “I remember many things that caused me to have bad dreams for years. D-Day morning was the hell of war, the afternoon was tragic and the restless night was filled with horror.”

Vietnam valor

About an hour south of Marshfield, Dairl Johnson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, lives and farms in Reeds Spring, Mo., with his wife, Doris. Dairl was raised on a farm in this small Stone County community, the second-youngest of 11 siblings. At that time, farming wasn’t what he wanted.

“When we got engaged, he said he would never live on a farm, and he’d never live in Reeds Spring,” said Doris, who met her future husband when she moved to the rural area from Springfield as a high school sophomore.

In 1969, four years after the Vietnam War began, Dairl’s number was called. He was drafted into the Army at age 18.

“They sent me to Vietnam for my senior trip,” he said.

He completed basic training over the summer at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., preparing him for the jungles of Vietnam.

“They called it little Korea, because it was hot in the sum­mertime and cold in the wintertime,” he said. “They had nice brick, air-conditioned buildings, but we stayed in what I called the Gomer Pyle buildings—those long, metal ones with a dome on top. They told us where we were going, we needed to get used to the heat.”

When he completed basic training, he returned home to Reeds Spring and married Doris.

“We were married for a little over a week when he went back to base and had orders for Vietnam,” Doris said. “At that time, Nixon had said no more troops would be going. He lied.”

Prior to shipping out, Dairl received specialized training in gas chambers, nerve agents, flamethrowers and grenades among other military weaponry in Anniston, Ala. From there, he got to come home for a short time before heading to Seattle, where he could choose to board a boat or airplane. The boat took 31 days, but didn’t count toward time served. Dairl chose to fly.

In mid-November, Dairl boarded a 22-hour flight bound for a country in crisis. He landed at Bien Hoa Air Base in southern Vietnam.

“That was a big holding place,” Dairl said. “There were probably 1,000 troops there, but a plane would land with 100 incoming troops, and 100 troops would get to go back out.”

He was stationed for 13 months at Phuoc Vinh Base Camp, located on the main road between Saigon and Dong Xoai.

“I was a decon specialist, that’s what they called us,” Dairl said. “We were in the chemical corps of the 1st Air-Cav (Air Cavalry) Division.”

“Agent Orange,” Doris further explained.

Dairl slept on nailed-together ammunition boxes. For a mat­tress, he blew up a poncho and poncho liner. Every night, he would cover himself with mosquito netting.

“We had tents surrounded by barrels filled with sand,” he said. “We called them hooches. Each hooch had a bunker next to it. That’s where we stayed.”

When asked what he could share about his war-time experi­ence, Dairl simply said, “It was bad, and that’s about all.”

“I don’t dwell on it, and I never really talked much about it,” he added. “I tell you one thing, you learn to hear the difference between outgoing and incoming rounds really quickly. We were right next to a helicopter pad, and the V.C. (Viet Cong) would shoot rockets in trying to hit that helicopter. Sometimes the rockets would take out half a hooch or land in front, so I would sleep at the end closest to the bunker. I remember someone saying to a new guy, ‘If you can beat ol’ D.J. to the bunker, then you’ve really done something,’ because I was fast.”

While in the jungle, Dairl wrote letters to his wife and family, but in the spring of 1970, there was a long stretch of silence.

“We didn’t hear anything for over a month,” Doris said. “No letters, nothing. My dad went through the Red Cross to try and find him. After it was over, we found out he’d been in the invasion of Cambodia, and he couldn’t tell anybody. Our families didn’t have a clue what had happened to him for six or seven weeks. It was rough. It’s a good thing we were young. If we would have known then what was going to happen, we probably wouldn’t have made it nerve-wise.”

“Young and invincible,” Dairl put it.

In December 1970, he returned to the Bien Hoa Air Base— this time as one of the 100 outgoing troops. It was easy to distinguish the new from the old then, Dairl said.

“You could tell they were scared,” he said. “They were pale white, had clean clothes on and didn’t know what was ahead of them. We were all that way at one time.”

Dairl arrived back in the States around Christmas by way of Oakland, Cal. When he and the other soldiers got off the bus to go into the airport terminal, there was a crowd of people standing around.

“It was kind of sad in a way,” Dairl said. “A guy standing next to me and said, ‘Look. There’s a crowd. They’ve come to cheer us on.’ Another guy said, ‘No.’ When we unloaded the bus, the sergeant told us to keep our head down and not to say anything. People would throw things at you and stuff, but that’s just the way it was back then. You just didn’t tell anyone you were in Vietnam.”

Inside the terminal was a large mirror. It had been over a year since Dairl and most of his fellow soldiers had seen their full reflection—something so basic yet inextri­cably intertwined with identity.

“In Vietnam, we had a piece of stainless steel that we carried around, and it was just large enough to see your face,” he said. “When we unloaded in Oakland, we would all just stop and look ourselves over in that mirror—you didn’t hardly recog­nize yourself. We were tan, and we were skinny.”

Back stateside, it took a while for her husband to acclimate to post-war life, Doris said.

“When he first got back, we were staying in a little cabin, and deer season had start­ed,” she said. “The guns started going off, and he got under the bed. It took about five years for him to calm down.”

Dairl finished out his two-year active-duty obligation in Anniston, Ala., with his wife.

“I had the option to extend my time in Vietnam for four months,” Dairl said. “They called it short orders, and if you did that, you could end your active duty early, but I’d seen too many do that and not come back.”

In June 1971, the couple moved to Springfield, Mo., and Dairl worked in construction while Doris went to work at Zenith Electric Corp. After a while, though, the construction work dried up, and Dairl was laid off.

“I came home from work one day, and he said, ‘I bought a farm,’” Doris recalled. “I said, ‘You did what?’”

Dairl was paid for his time in Vietnam, but those checks went in the bank, slowly accumulating. He didn’t need money in the jungle. 

“I used the money I’d saved up to buy this original 40 acres in ’72,” Dairl said. Shortly thereafter, he went to work for the Paul Muel­ler Company in Springfield, which produces a variety of stainless-steel products such as dairy milk tanks and beer tanks.

“Another day, I came home, and he told me he had purchased 10 head of cattle from the neighbor,” Doris said. “Again, I said, ‘You did what?’”

Dairl admits his perspective on life changed after the war. He recognized his upbringing was an idyllic life. He wanted to farm, and he knew how to raise cattle and put in the work it takes to be successful.

He seized opportunities for additional farmland as they arose. When a neighbor passed away, Dairl sold calves and bought the surrounding acreage while still also working nights in the manufacturing plant. In 1975, when Doris was pregnant with their only son, Dairl’s dad died. Dairl was able to buy half the homestead, again paying for the land with cat­tle sales. Later, he found 1,000 acres in Web­ster County near Marshfield and knew that was his shot to make it as a full-time farmer.

“At 18, I never thought I’d be where I am,” Dairl said. “But after Vietnam, I realized this is paradise.”

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Life in the raw

Just blame it on the kid.

Really, it’s the baby goat’s fault, Michelle DeLong is quick to explain when she

describes how she and her husband, Marc, got into the direct-to-consumer dairy business.

“I had a bottle kid, and I needed milk,” she said. “I asked Marc to bring home one of the Jersey cows his parents had kept when they sold their dairy a few years earlier. She produced 8 gallons a day, and I only needed half a gallon for my goat. I was making cheese. I was making yogurt. But I couldn’t use it all.”

She advertised the excess milk on Facebook and quickly sold out. The demand snowballed. Seven years later, the DeLongs are milking nine Jersey cows and eight to 10 Nubian goats twice a day in a Grade A-level dairy on their 120-acre farm in Marionville, Mo. The fresh, raw milk is bottled and sold straight from the farm.

“This was not the plan in life,” Marc laughs.

He was raised on a commercial dairy farm, just a few miles down the road, where his parents, Ron and Patty, raised high-quality, award-winning registered Holsteins and Jerseys for more than 40 years. Well respected in the industry, the DeLongs are members of the Missouri Dairy Hall of Fame and showed their cattle across the country with multiple champion titles to their credit.

Michelle was raised as a “city girl” in nearby Springfield but discovered a love of horses when she was given her first one at age 14. After graduating from Missouri State University in 2006 with an animal science degree, Michelle moved to rural Marionville and bought her own farm, which she named Eagle’s Wings Ranch. She added several more horses, a couple of donkeys and eventually goats.

“My neighbors had some goats, and I realized how much fun they were,” Michelle said. “So I put together my own mixed herd. I had about 70 goats before Marc and I got married in the spring of 2011.”

Michelle met Marc when she went to work on the DeLong family dairy, where she helped milk the 50-cow herd twice a day to supplement her second part-time job as a substitute teacher. Ron and Patty decided to get out of the labor-in­tensive dairy business and focus on beef cattle shortly after Marc and Michelle were married, but the newlyweds didn’t want to take over the milking operation. They did, however, keep a few of the family’s best Jersey heifers, which had been carefully bred and selected for their high-quality genetics.

But re-entering the dairy business wasn’t in the plans—yet. Marc had established his own beef operation, Camelot Cattle Co., and Michelle was content to raise goats and horses. That all changed after they brought home Quickie, one of the reserved DeLong Jersey cows, to produce the milk Michelle needed for that orphaned bottle kid.

“Once we saw the interest people had in buy­ing our extra milk, we realized there was a need to fill,” Michelle said. “We added more cows, and it just kept picking up speed. The business organically became what it is today.”

After they were married for about a year, the DeLongs started the transition to registered Nu­bians. If they were going to raise goats, Marc had said, they were going to do it right. They began with four well-pedigreed does and have built the herd to around 30 today.

“Out of all the breeds I had raised, I liked Nubians the best,” Michelle said. “They have fan­tastic personalities, they absolutely adore people, and I love their floppy ears. They produce sweet milk with higher butterfat. Plus, they’re the only dairy goat considered dual-purpose and can also be raised for meat.”

The Nubians and Jerseys are milked together twice a day, every 12 hours, in an 1850s-era barn converted into a simple yet effective dairy facility. The goats are milked two at a time with a portable tank milker. The cows are milked three at a time with automatic milkers attached to pipelines that flow into a 90-gallon, stain­less-steel tank in the adjacent bottling room. There, milk is filtered and cooled before being dispensed into sterilized half-gallon glass bottles and chilled in an industrial refrigerator.

In general, there are concerns about the safety of raw milk, which hasn’t been pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria, and some states ban its sale altogether. But Missouri law allows the sale of raw milk as long as it goes direct from the farm to the consumer. The DeLongs are adamant that their meticulous handling and management practices keep Camelot’s products safe and nutritious. Michelle also completed a Dairy Goat Quality Production course in 2018.

“You start with the best-quality dairy animals and keep them healthy, happy and clean,” Marc said. “Then you have to handle the milk correctly, with the proper sanitation and cleanliness. Our milk is never touched by a human hand, from the time it leaves the parlor until the time it goes into the bottle. And the quicker you get the milk cooled down and keep it cold, the better.”

For added safety and sanitation, the DeLongs don’t allow milk customers to bring their own containers. Instead, they require a one-time bot­tle deposit collected with the first purchase.

“Where a lot of raw milk dairies go wrong is not getting their bottles sterilized or letting people bring in their own jars or jugs,” Michelle said. “We don’t do that. We know our bottles are clean and sterilized, so for liability’s sake, we only sell our milk in them. The more we can control the quality, the better it will be for everyone.”

Sales are made on the honor system by cus­tomers who are vetted before they are allowed to buy from the farm. They leave their empty glass bottles on the store’s counter, write down what they are buying and put their payment in the designated cash box. 

“Customers can come whenever it’s convenient for them,” Marc explains. “The store is open 24/7. They can usually take care of themselves, but we have our phone number posted on the refrigerator if they need us for any­thing. There’s always someone here on the farm.”

One of those loyal customers, Karen Brazda of Marion­ville, stopped by on a recent Friday afternoon to get a half gallon of Jersey milk to treat family visiting from Texas.

“You can taste the difference,” she said. “It’s really sweet and creamy, and when it’s ice cold like this, right out of the cooler, there’s nothing like it. We made ice cream with it this summer, and you don’t have to add any extra cream or anything. It’s so good.”

In total, Camelot’s nine milk cows are producing about 40 gallons a day. Each goat averages 1 gallon per day. The DeLongs have a market for nearly all of it. Raw Jersey cow milk is $2.50 per half gallon, and Nubian goat milk is $4 per half gallon. Michelle also uses the milk to make soaps and other skin-care products.

“We don’t advertise,” Michelle said. “Our business has grown mostly by word of mouth. What’s the saying? Build it, and they will come? We built this, and they just keep coming. We have some really great customers. Some even drive from a couple hours away to get our milk.”

Jersey milk is available year-round, but Nubians are seasonal breeders. On the DeLong farm, the does are bred in the fall when their milk production is slowing down. They are dry in January and February before kidding in March after about a five-month gestation. Goats typically give birth to two or three kids. The Camelot herd averages triplet births, Michelle said.

“With good management, triplets should be about average,” she added. “We’ve had several sets of quads, too. The better nutrition they get, the more the does ovulate because their body knows it can support the babies.”

Both the goats and cows on the DeLong farm are fed MFA’s Turbo 16 Plus dairy ration, purchased in bulk from MFA’s Aurora Feed Mill. This complete feed is formulated with 16% protein along with added cottonseed and cracked corn. The De­Longs also feed their cows and goats MFA minerals and provide free-choice hay—a grass-clover mix for the Jerseys and alfalfa for the Nubians.

“For milkers, especially, you want to provide enough protein to support production and enough carbs to keep the optimum amount of weight on them,” Michelle explains. “You have to find a good balance between protein and carbs so you get pro­duction without the animals losing too much weight.”

Of course, she adds, the right feed isn’t everything. High-quality milk production also takes the right combination of nutrition and genetics. Breeding premier milk cows has been a longtime priority for Marc and his family, and Michelle is taking the same approach with her dairy does and bucks, looking for the best bloodlines and traits to improve the progeny.

And her efforts are paying off. One of the farm’s Nubian does, a 3-year-old named Missy, was recently listed among the nation’s top 10 breed leaders by the Dairy Herd Improvement registry, based on official 305-day lactation records. For 2019, Missy was No. 3 in milk production and butterfat and No. 9 in protein production out of all the Nubians tested in the DHI program.

The recognition has been good for business. Michelle says all of the farm’s doelings are reserved for 2021—and the mamas aren’t even bred yet. She even has some requests for the follow­ing year.

“She’s our first one in the top 10, and that’s pretty elite,” Michelle said. “A lot of people will see that list and look up our farm. I may not have planned to be in the dairy business, but it’s different when it’s your herd that you’ve developed.”

“Just look at Missy,” she continued. “I picked how to breed her. She’s got my herd name. And she’s No. 3 in the nation. That’s a rewarding feeling.”

Over the past year, she and Marc have been prepar­ing for an even more rewarding new adventure on their farm—parenthood. On Oct. 12, Michelle gave birth to twins, a daughter, Brielle Marie, and a son, Samuel Colt. In preparation for kids of her own, Michelle reduced the number of goats she’s milking and sold a few does to lighten the load until she and Marc find their balance as farmers and first-time parents.

“We’d just planned to have one, but God has a sense of humor,” Michelle said. “I guess if you’re going to have two, you might as well have one of each. We’re thankful for this miracle, and we know the farm is going to be a great place to raise our children.”

For more information, visit camelotcattlecompany.com or call 417-466-5436. For more information on MFA feeds and minerals, visit with your local MFA or AGChoice location or online at mfa-inc.com/feed.

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Made in TF country: Linked to history

Outfitting wagon-train travelers was big business in St. Louis in the mid-19th century. The bustling Mississippi River town was the launching point for many adventurers who were headed west to unsettled areas of America. Blacksmiths were essential for repairing and equipping the covered wagons that would carry these pioneers and their possessions into un­known, often untrodden, territories.

This historical setting marks the beginning of Laclede Chain, which has origins dating back to 1854, making the company the oldest chain manufacturer in the U.S. The business started in a St. Louis blacksmith shop, where skilled craftsmen produced breast chain, trace chain and anti-spreader chains to support those loaded, westward-bound wagons. The chain was all formed by hand with a blacksmith’s hammer and individually welded links that were joined over a hearth and bellows.

Some 166 years later, transportation chains are still a mainstay of Laclede Chain’s operations, but the manufacturing methods have been modernized and the product line has greatly expanded. Around 1 million links of chain are produced every day by La­clede employees, who churn out dozens of different types, grades and sizes of chain for all kinds of uses.

Laclede products, many of which are available through MFA, include chains for transportation, cargo control, agriculture safety, trailers, overhead lifting, construction and even marine applica­tions, along with the appropriate fittings and accessories such as hooks, snaps and connectors. No matter the chain, the process begins the same—with raw, American-made steel, which arrives at the factory in rolls of wire rods in various diameters to accommo­date Laclede’s wide variety of chain products and sizes.

“We take great pride in the fact that we manufacture in the U.S. and are part of the backbone of our economy,” said Tim Riley, Laclede president and CEO. “We’re also proud to supply a lot of product to others who make up the backbone of America, like truckers and farmers and construction workers. This country can’t run without them.”

Riley has been at the helm of the Laclede since 2019, taking over the job when his father, Jim Riley, stepped into the role of chairman of the board. The elder Riley, who had a background in manufacturing steel tubing, and a group of investors bought the chain company from bankrupt Laclede Steel in 2001 and began operating it as a separate entity. Jim became majority owner in 2010, along with partner Steve Heuett.

“The chain side of Laclede Steel was a small but profitable part of that company,” Tim Riley said. “My dad, together with some equity funding and some private partnership, was able to pull that out and create a new company, keeping the name, La­clede. He recognized this kind of diamond that was inside of this large corporation, and it’s been a great relationship ever since.”

Today, Laclede employs 200 people and operates four facilities, including a 160,000-square-foot factory in Maryville, Mo., where most of the prod­ucts are manufactured. A smaller plant in Vicksburg, Miss., opened in 2011 to make some of Laclede’s traction chains. A warehouse in Vancouver, Wash., distributes the traction products, which include tire chains for all types of vehicles. The management, administration, accounting and sales teams operate from Laclede’s main offices in St. Louis.

“We’re the only chain manufacturer that’s not part of a larger corporation,” Riley said. “As a privately owned company, we’re very family oriented, and we encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among our employees. We like working with customers such as MFA who also have that mindset.”

That familial atmosphere, combined with the company’s focus on quality and service, help set Laclede apart in the marketplace, said Tim Catlett, director of materials at the Maryville facility.

“I suppose that’s a popular answer, but we really do focus on making sure we have a quality product and are able to provide exceptional service to our customers,” Catlett said. “If I look at all of the con­versations we have and the things we do here every day, that’s what consumes most of our time.”

In all aspects of its operations, Laclede emphasizes continual improvement, said Chief Operating Offi­cer Robert Nupp, who’s been with the company for 14 years. Recently, he’s been working with manage­ment at the Maryville and Vicksburg facilities to help implement a program called the “2 Second Lean,” which emphasizes small improvements to make big differences.

“It’s a concept where all of our employees try to improve what they do by two seconds every day,” Nupp said. “Those small improvements add up over time, and we get to be a much better organization by doing that. It’s also about unlocking untapped potential of employees who have great ideas that perhaps haven’t been heard. The best way to grow is to inno­vate, be creative with what you’re doing and find ways to do things better.”

One of the newest innovations for Laclede is the introduction of a Grade 120 chain, which is 20% stronger than the next strongest chain on the market, Nupp said. Another recent addi­tion, inspired by an employee suggestion, is a powder-coating process to finish chains and accessories for ATVs in the same paint color as the vehicle’s manufacturer. Laclede has also creat­ed a line of high-visibility painted chains, specifically targeted to the construction industry.

“Having these bright colors is absolutely critical on a con­struction site where there’s a lot of equipment moving around and things being lifted overhead,” Riley said. “We’ve been using the tagline, ‘Safety you can see.’ We’re very focused on that. No matter what industry you’re working in, it’s vital to be able to get home to your family each night.”

The company’s successes don’t come without challeng­es, Riley said. Sourcing steel is one of the toughest tasks, he explained. Laclede is at the mercy of fluctuating commodity markets in acquiring its domestic-made materials.

“We always have to play the steel markets, which go up and down, up and down,” he said. “With steel rod, especially, there are only a few suppliers, so we’re really limited in our choices.”

Finding new employees is another perpetual struggle, Riley continued, with Laclede competing with other manufacturing industries for a limited labor pool in Maryville’s rural setting. The company recruits from area schools and participates in national Manufacturing Day activities each year, giving students a glimpse into Laclede’s operations and job opportunities.

For those who do find careers at Laclede, longevity and dedication are common denominators. Many of the company’s employees have an agricultural background, Nupp said, bring­ing with them a work ethic and mechanical aptitude that are advantageous for the chain manufacturer.

“We have a lot of people who have worked with us for 10, 20, 30 years or more, which you don’t always see in manufactur­ing,” Nupp said. “A lot of them are currently farmers or previous farmers, which is a huge plus for us. They’re part of the com­munity, and so is Laclede, which is important to the culture that we’re trying to build within the organization.”

For more information about Laclede Chain Manufacturing Company and to see a video of the chain-making process, visit online at lacledechain.com. To learn more about Laclede prod­ucts available through MFA, visit with the personnel at your Agri Services or AGChoice location.

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