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Reining supreme

An equine trainer for 45 years, Randy Schaffhauser specializes in cattle-working horses and reining horses at his stables in Paragould, Ark. His profession takes him to competitions all over the country, often with horses in tow. That’s why when MFA launched EasyKeeper HDC last year, Schaff­hauser was one of the first people to try it.

“They say 90% of performance horses either have ulcers or are subject to them,” Schaffhauser said. “I pretty much know the symptoms for horses. It can cost close to $1,000 to treat an ulcer, and our horses won’t perform well until it’s fixed, so we use HDC to keep our horses level and prevent the ulcer beforehand.”

Easykeeper HDC, which stands for horse digestive care, contains sodi­um bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid, much like an antacid for humans. Stephen Daume, MFA livestock specialist, explains that perfor­mance horses are especially prone to stomach ulcers because of the way the chambers of a horse’s stomach are constructed. Acid from the lower cham­ber can enter the upper chamber while performing. Stress of travel can also be a contributing factor.

“When HDC first became available, we took some out to Randy,” Daume said. “We knew he did a lot of hauling. He tried it and liked it and as an added benefit, it’s actually saving them a little bit of money over what they were feeding previously.”

Schaffhauser’s discipline of choice, reining, is a physically demanding event for the horses. In this style of western riding, the rider must skillfully maneuver the horse through a difficult pattern and is judged for precision and technique.

“One of the biggest challenges is keep­ing the horse relaxed and sound all the way through to the end,” he added. “We run fast and say ‘whoa,’ and the horse will slide 30 feet. It can be hard on them. We have to have a good vet and a good feed program.”

Reining is a unique sport because the trainer and rider compete as one. Schaff­hauser began learning to train horses for this and other competitive equine events in his youth. He credits his stepfather with some of his early learning.

“He was pretty good at showing me how to train our personal horses,” Schaff­hauser said. “But we weren’t trainers. We were farmers and ranchers, and we showed horses. As a high-schooler, it was my job to break the horses we raised and get them ready to show. My life led in that direction instead of farming.”

Later, Schaffhauser would go on to work with horses for another trainer who imparted more informal lessons.

“I’d start them, and he would kind of guide me through how he wanted his horses when they came to him,” Schaffhauser said. “But I was always on my own. I’d just learn by the seat of my pants, so to speak, from watching other trainers and studying them.”

While in college at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Schaffhauser began competing in rodeos. After college, he farmed and trained horses on the side. In 2000, he moved back to Jones­boro and started training and showing horses full time.

“As I progressed through the horse business, I started to figure out what it takes to win and the quality of horse it takes to win,” he said.

And win he did. Schaffhauser holds a few world titles in reining events in both the American Quarter Horse Associa­tion and the American Paint Horse Association.

Competing is part of his business and has its rewards, both in prestige and monetarily, Schaffhauser said. Howev­er, he also works with customers back home at his stables to train their horses and teach them to ride and compete as well. Currently, he has 20-25 horses in training that all range in value from $25,000 to $75,000.

“I love to train the horse and make it into something,” he said. “It’s kind of like farming—you plant the seed and then make the crop. You see progress daily as you spend time with a horse. Working with the horse and the customer is the most rewarding part.”

Schaffhauser is also a member of the National Reining Horse Association, which holds more than 1,200 reining events around the world. He and his customers travel to many shows throughout the year. The largest show, the NRHA Futurity held annually in Oklahoma City, gives out nearly $2.3 million in prize winnings. Approximately 125,000 spectators from more than 20 countries attend, and there are events for all levels of competitive riders.

“The shows we go to pay well,” Schaffhauser said. “The classes have a lot of added money, so those monetary returns are what allow us to survive and make our customers want to spend money to buy a nice horse. The hope is we have a good horse and can ride it and win money because that’s what keeps us thriving.”

Schaffhauser’s career earnings total over $250,000 in reining and cow horse events with multiple top 10 NRHA finishes. He’s been a finalist in every NRHA major event with horses he’s either raised or trained for customers.

Today, Schaffhauser feeds his horses a modified high-fat blend of MFA EasyKeeper in addition to the EasyKeeper HDC, which he uses for preventative care. His feed is deliv­ered by his local MFA Agri Services Midsouth in Mounds, Ark., which he noted as an added convenience.

“It’s a strenuous sport,” he said. “Our customers like their horses to look plump and pretty, but they use a lot of energy training and performing. On normal feeds, which usually contain something like 12% protein and 3% fat, they won’t stay that way when you ride them for performance. The high-fat feed keeps the energy levels good and keeps the horses looking good, too.”

People have noticed. Schaffhauser said he gets comments on his horse’s appearance all the time.

“I think the word spread around,” he said. “I don’t know too many people in our community around here who aren’t feeding what we’re feeding.”

For more information on EasyKeeper or EasyKeeper HDC, contact your MFA or AGChoice location or visit online at mfa-inc.com/Products/Equine/Feeds/Easykeeper.

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Shear determination

Shearing day starts with cinnamon rolls and a side of eggs on Schmidt Brothers Farm in Centralia, Mo.

Rosel Schmidt brings a plateful of break­fast out to the barn, where her oldest son, Matt, is working with long-time shearer and family friend, Jim Schaefer. Heavy black clouds from a late-spring storm can be seen on the horizon, but that doesn’t slow them down. In fact, the farm is awash with com­motion. Rosel has made enough food to feed the local wrestling team, literally.

Her husband, Bryan, and middle son, Mike, are both wrestling coaches in Cen­tralia, while son, Marc, coaches in nearby Moberly. His twin brother, Mitch, also teaches ag education at North Shelby High School in Shelbyville, Mo. Today, high school wrestlers are flocking to one end of the farm readying for an event, while Matt is herding sheep in the opposite direc­tion through a series of gates to Jim, owner of Schaefer’s Sheep Shearing in Callao, Mo.

“These are our old ewes,” said Matt. “They get sheared twice a year—once in the spring, then again in the fall.”

Matt and his three brothers grew up showing sheep, a passion passed down from their mother.

“The story goes, my grand­parents were looking for something for my mom to take to the fair,” Matt said. “They thought cattle were too big for her, and showing pigs is very specific and detailed. Sheep just fit.”

As time went on, the family kept that tradition. Together, the Schmidts now have roughly 240 sheep, split between two locations. Right now, Matt mainly raises natural-colored sheep, Katahdin hair sheep, and some crossbreds, but over the last 20-plus years, the farm has been home to a variety of breeds.

“I think I started with about eight Southdown ewes when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Matt said. “They’re a small breed. They don’t get any taller than about the thigh. But my cousins had Hampshires and Dorsets, and my brother had Tunis.”

Different sheep get different shearing treatments, he ex­plained. When preparing for a show, the lambs and yearlings get a meticulous cut and fluff, but the ewes just get a quick shear and are on their way back to the green grass of the pasture.

It’s something Matt can do, but shearing isn’t his specialty. That’s where Jim comes in. He’s quick, and he’s skilled. Experience has made him so. He started when he was 14 years old after attending a shearing school with his father.

“We would shear our own sheep and some for our neighbors, but I didn’t really do it much until I got out of college,” said Jim, a graduate of University of Missouri in Columbia.

For about 10 years during his mid-20s and early-30s, Jim sharpened his skills by competing in shearing contests, a sport in which entrants see how fast they can remove the wool. On average, he could shear a sheep in about 2 minutes. But as his sons began getting older and showing sheep themselves, Jim steered his efforts in that direction.

He currently maintains a flock of Île-de-France sheep, a breed native to the region near Paris and relatively uncom­mon in the United States.

When Jim is done shearing the Schmidts’ flock, he will haul the wool to his own farm and bale it with a hydraulic wool press. From there, it’s shipped west to Roswell Wool in Roswell, N.M., where it’s then sampled for quality and auctioned. On the market, wool can vary from 15 cents a pound to $4 a pound.

“Most of our Midwest wools are medium to coarse in texture,” Jim said. “They aren’t fine wools like you would see in nice suits or sweaters. Our wools may be used for things like socks or blankets. Fine-wool sheep don’t handle a lot of moisture like we have in Missouri.”

On the Schmidt farm, the crossbred sheep are mostly raised for meat, which the family butchers themselves, while the other breeds may be destined for the show ring. Though Matt started with smaller Southdown sheep, he bought his first natural-colored ewe as soon as he was able to raise the money in his early teens. Last year, he took home the Re­serve Grand Champion Fall Ewe Lamb title at the Missouri State Fair in the open show with the breed.

“The natural-colored sheep are big, but that was the breed I decided I wanted,” Matt said. “Now, we’re probably one of 10 breeders in the U.S. of this sheep. There aren’t that many of us out there.”

Perhaps the greatest winning weekend for the Schmidt family happened in 2015 when Matt’s younger brother, Mitch, found himself holding the Grand Champion purple ribbon with a natural-colored ram in the junior show at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Lou­isville, Ky. Mitch also took home the Grand Champion rib­bon in the National Junior Tunis Show that same weekend, and Matt showed the Grand Champion Ewe in the North American International Tunis Open Show.

Though he can now only show in the open category, Matt still does whenever he has the chance.

“There’s a show in Troy we try to go to every year because that’s the group I grew up with,” Matt said. “There were 11 of us who showed together from the time we were little kids until we aged out. To this day, we still try to get together at least every other month.”

The camaraderie is the part of raising and showing sheep he said he most enjoys.

“It’s the family aspect of showing,” Matt said. “I’ve gained friends for a lifetime. I have two boys now. They each have 10 sheep. They aren’t big enough to show yet, but I want them to get that same feeling that always comes from doing this.”

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Upward trends

The first computer David Backer remembers seeing was in the office of his family’s machinery dealership, Wise Bros., in the 1970s. His uncle, J.O. Wise, used this state-of-the-art technology to buy and sell commodity futures long before the practice was common on Midwest farms.

Being on the leading edge of the agricultural industry has been a hallmark of the Wise family through six generations of farmers and entrepreneurs. Today, David, who took over management of the family business in 2014, is carrying on that progressive tradition with his two oldest sons, Harrison and Matthew.

“Wise Bros. was always into the next big thing, and somehow that’s turned into us,” David said. “We’re continually looking to the future and trying to be forward-thinking. The stakes get higher with every generation.”

The current operation is divided equally into equipment sales and farming, David said. He and his sons buy and sell farm equipment and host machinery auctions at their facilities, advantageously located alongside Interstate 70 a few miles outside King­dom City, Mo. The Backers also farm around 2,000 acres, producing corn, soybeans and wheat along with beef cattle, hay and straw.

With so many enterprises running simultaneously, the Backers say they need all the help they can get, especially when it comes to managing their crops. MFA’s Crop-Trak scouting program provides that extra support. Since enrolling in Crop-Trak in 2016, David said the service has not only increased efficiencies on the farm but also keeps him on top of the latest trends and technologies.

“Our business has been growing so much over the past few years to make room for these kids of mine, but sometimes the room is made before they’re here,” David said. “That’s where Crop-Trak comes in. It’s relieved a lot of my stress. It’s the best thing we’ve done, honestly. I can get the crop fertilized and planted and harvested, but I can never find time to walk the fields. MFA gives me a guy who is looking at our crop every week and letting me know what we need to be doing.”

For the Backers, that guy is Crop-Trak consultant Cade Shiflett, who scouts around 900 acres of their farm. One of his recommendations that paid dividends last sea­son was a fungicide application paired with MFA’s Gold Advantage Trend-B, a proprietary product introduced for the 2019 season. This foliar-fed, slow-release nitrogen is combined with boron to provide targeted nutrition when the plant needs it the most.

Beyond disease protection, fungicide benefits include stay-green, stress tolerance and standability. Working in synergy with the fungicide, Trend-B boosts these benefits by promoting plant growth, resulting in more gain with higher N efficiency.

“When Cade recommended we put fungicide on our corn because there was some southern rust coming through, he also said Trend-B was something we should try,” David said. “I trust his advice. If it had just been me trying to scout and figure things out, I may not have known we needed the fungicide, and I probably wouldn’t have known about the Trend-B, either. But I’m glad I did. That application more than paid for itself.”

Even though the season got off to a shaky start with last spring’s excessively wet weather, David said both his soybean and corn crops produced record yields with good standability into harvest. He largely attributes that success to the fungicide and Trend-B. In fact, he said the treated corn yielded 25 to 30 bushels more than an untreated field on his homeplace.

“I look at things like Trend-B from an agronomic stand­point—what will give my growers an edge to take yields to the next level,” Cade said. “The benefits of fungicide are proven, but adding more nitrogen over the top gives you an even better return. So, in a year like we had in 2019, I was really eager to try it. And it worked. I never really saw any stress in the plants, and the yield difference was amazing.”

Trend-B not only adds the small amount of available N necessary to help a fungicide improve plant performance, Cade explained, but it also helps maintain optimal boron nutri­tion, which is often needed late in the season. Boron is essential for grain development but commonly deficient in Midwest soils. The issue with boron, unlike many plant nutrients, is that it is very mobile in the soil but not in the plant. Adding boron to a foliar application reduces its need to move from the soil through the plant and ensure it is where it is most needed.

The most reliable measure of boron deficiency is tissue test­ing, a practice that proved Trend-B’s benefits in soybeans last season on the farm of Derek Twenter in Smithton, Mo. Because of the spring’s weather challenges, he said not all of his fertilizer applications went out as planned. His Crop-Trak consultant, Taylor Birdsong, advised treating half of the bean crop with a fungicide/Trend-B combination.

“When we took the tissue samples afterward, the boron had gone up to the level we wanted,” Derek said. “I have no doubt it helped yields, too. The beans with the Trend-B did better than all the others, averaging more than 70 bushels. We definitely saw results. In fact, I wish we’d done more of it.”

MFA agronomists warn, however, that foliar feeding is not sufficient to meet all the plant’s nutritional requirements and must be part of a sound fertility program. Proper timing is also crucial to maximize the benefits of both fungicides and Trend-B. In corn, applications should be made typically at tasseling, when the plants are rapidly using nitrogen for growth. Corn takes up half its N supply between the V8 and VT stages and needs boron for silking and kernel fill. In soybeans, the combo should also be applied in the reproductive growth stages, from about R2 to R4. That’s when a soybean plant takes up 70% to 75% of its boron, which is important for pod-set and fill stages.

Using his own high-clearance sprayer, Derek made the combined application on about 500 acres of soybeans at R4, based on Taylor’s guidance. Since enrolling in Crop-Trak about five years ago, Derek said such recommendations have been invaluable to his family’s operation. The 28-year-old farms with his grandfather, Arthur, and father, Greg, growing around 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans, backgrounding cattle and raising 600 cow-calf pairs.

“Working with Taylor is almost like having another employ­ee on the farm, someone I can trust,” Derek said. “He knows all our fields, and if I’m busy and need something, I just call him up and he’ll take care of it for me, no questions asked. We bounce ideas back and forth, and he’s always bringing new things to the table that he thinks will help us.”

Derek, who returned to the farm full time 10 years ago after studying diesel mechanics at Grand River Technical School in Chillicothe, Mo., bought his own acreage in 2014 and is hoping to build the operation for the next generation. He and his wife, Emily, now have an 18-month-old daughter, Laken.

“Since buying this place, margins have gotten much tighter, and it’s tougher to make a profit,” Derek said. “We have to do more to increase yield, and that’s where something like Trend-B comes into play. We spend our money where our crops have the most potential and just keep pushing them, trying to get to the next level. It benefited us last year, and if it makes sense this year, we’ll do it again. Anything that can gain us extra bushels and still be in the black, we’re going to try it.”

Talk with your Crop-Trak consultant or other MFA agronomy experts about the opportunity to improve your crop’s health and increase yields by combining fungicides with Trend-B foliar nutrition.

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Better way to hay

Quality or quantity? When it comes to hay production, it’s not an either/or question. You want both.

Every year, we are asked by producers, “How can I make high-quality hay and lots of it?” There’s no sim­ple answer. That’s what Ben Buckner, one of our MFA customers in southwest Missouri, discovered when he started managing forage more attentively on his cow/ calf operation in Walnut Grove. He raises 275 acres of hay and produces an average of 750 bales each year to support his beef herd.

“I’ve come to realize there are better ways to do things than the way I’ve done them in the past,” Ben told us, emphasizing that proper harvest timing and fertilization are two of his most important consider­ations.

For the past few years, Ben has worked with his local MFA to soil sample his forage fields and create a custom fertilizer blend, rather than spreading a blanket 3-1-1 analysis as he had done for many years. Last year, he enrolled in MFA’s Nutri-Track precision pro­gram, which helps him manage soil fertility on an acre-by-acre basis. He plans to add more acres this year.

Following other recommended management practic­es, Ben said he sprays his hayfields for weeds as much as his budget will allow and tries to start harvesting hay as early as possible to maximize quality and quan­tity. He’s learned that achieving the best of both worlds in hay production requires multistep management that starts long before baling.

If you, too, want a closer focus on high-quality, high-quantity hay, we offer these management tips to help accomplish your goals.

Species selection and diversity

The type of forage you grow is a driving force behind the quantity of hay you produce. Here in the Midwest, we have plenty of forage choices, and over time we can make species changes that improve production and create an abundant supply for the majority of the year.

Fescue is the predominant forage in the Midwest and yields 1 to 3 tons per acre in a single cutting and 3 to 5 tons in two or more cuttings during the season. These totals are quite typical for any cool-season grass.

To increase tons per acre by species selection, look to alfalfa, bermudagrass, native warm-season grasses (NWSG) or summer annuals. Alfalfa and bermuda are both capable of 6-plus tons per acre in three to five cuttings per season. NWSG yields can average 4 to 5 tons per acre on the first cutting, depending on the species, and may yield a second cutting. Eastern gammagrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass all work well for haying operations. Sorghum-Sudangrass is an annual capable of two to three cuttings of 2-plus tons per acre.

We highly encourage you to have a portion of your farm in warm-season grasses. They’re harvested later than cool-season forages and can provide good-quality hay without increasing your workload during the busiest part of spring. Plus, native grasses are inherently more efficient with fertilizer than most other forages.

When it comes to quality, there is a fair amount of variabil­ity among various species. Legumes, as a rule, test higher in crude protein and digestibility than perennial, annual and native grasses. That being said, stage of maturity at cutting has the largest impact in crude protein, digestibility and energy in baled forage.

Grid soil sampling

Many growers use composite soil samples, which can get you started in the right direction. A composite soil sample gives you the average fertility and pH of the field. That means roughly half the field is above that mark and half is below. When you apply the recommended plant nutrients and lime, you meet the needs of half the field, but it won’t be enough for the other half.

Grid sampling through a program such as MFA’s Nutri-Track gives you a comprehensive look at the fertility and pH of every acre. Composite samples are taken on a 2.5-acre grid, which allows you to precisely apply nutrients and lime. Think about it as a report card with details on how you can maximize forage production more efficiently.

On the Buckner farm, Ben had seen an increase in sage grass in a hay field where he’d always applied the same fertilizer analysis. After working with MFA on soil testing and custom application, he said the sage grass has decreased and hay yields have increased.

“MFA has really helped me by making a fertilizer blend that is not only what my soil needs but also the most economical for my operation,” Ben said. “Most producers have limited acres, and Nutri-Track allows me to maximize every acre of my hay fields to be more efficient and productive.”

Variable-rate application of lime and fertilizer

The soil-test reports generated through Nutri-Track allow pro­ducers to use variable-rate technology to spoon-feed each acre with the proper amount of fertilizer and lime. As a result, you maximize production while more efficiently investing fertilizer dollars.

A proper diet of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur plays a key role in hay quantity and quality. Phosphorus, in particular, has many uses in the plant. One of the most im­portant is developing and maintaining a vigorous root system for uptake of nutrients and water. Potassium, too, has many essential functions in the plant, such as improving standability and water-use efficiency. In drought situations, low P and K levels indicate poor root systems that can’t hang on to what little water is available.

Variable-rate applications of lime are just as crucial to hay health. Having the correct pH on every acre makes all nutrients more available to the plant, therefore improving leaf matter, pal­atability and crude protein levels. Better palatability improves consumption and animal performance.

Weed control

It goes without saying that controlling weeds increases forage quality. This is especially true with the huge influx of toxic weeds we have seen in recent years, such as poison hemlock, horse nettle, perilla mint and nightshade. Unfortunately, most remain toxic when cut, baled and fed, so control of these weeds is a must.

Controlling weeds isn’t just about improving quality, howev­er. Long term, controlling weeds also has a huge impact on tons per acre. For every pound of weeds you terminate, you get 1 to 2 pounds of desirable forage in return. Start with a clean field and keep it clean for maximum yields.

Mowing height

Before harvest begins, be sure your cutter bar is set to the right height. For cool-season grasses, it should be at least 4 inches high, while alfalfa and bermudagrass can be cut at 2 inches without adverse effects. Annual and native warm-season grasses should cut to a height of 6 to 8 inches.

Growers often ask why we recommend leaving so much for­age in the field. The answer is two-fold: stand life and recovery time. Repeatedly cutting below the recommended height, or the growing point of the plant, decreases tillering and thins the stand, allowing more room for competitive weeds to encroach. Short cutting heights also remove much of the carbohydrate reserves and photosynthesis capacity, delaying recovery of the grass stand. Rapid recovery leads to a higher likelihood of a good, timely second harvest, and honestly, you really don’t add that many pounds to the harvest with shorter cuttings.

Harvest timing

Maturity stage at harvest is the most important factor influ­encing forage quality. As the crop matures, crude protein falls, fiber increases, digestibility decreases and palatability drops. Waiting for a great weather forecast usually results in more lost quality than a rain event would have caused. If rain is in the forecast, and you can time harvest correctly, precipitation right after cutting doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as rain on dry hay.

It’s a principle Ben Buckner says he tries to live by.

“We cut as early as weather will allow,” he said. “We realize that good-quality hay is not only better for the cows, but also you don’t have to feed as much to meet their nutritional needs.”

Cutting legumes in the bud to early bloom stage provides a great compromise of quality and yield. Cool-season grasses and NWSG should ideally be cut in the boot stage, which is very early in the reproductive stage of growth. Stem elongation is happening, and you can feel the seed head inside the stem, but it is not emerged yet.

Alfalfa is typically ready for the first cutting in late April or early May. Cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass, fescue and brome are typically in the boot stage by early to mid-May. When it comes to harvest timing, native warm-season grasses have a real advantage. Their first harvest, at the boot stage, is typically in mid-June. Not only are rainfall events a little further apart in June, but warmer temperatures encourage faster curing of the hay.

After baling, native grasses can be grazed rotationally, or a second cutting can be taken, as long as it’s before Sept. 1. Warm-season annuals should be cut each time they reach around 30 inches. Bermudagrass should be harvested at 15 to 18 inches. In cool-season grass pastures, you can generally take additional cuttings every 4 to 6 weeks after the first harvest.

Anything that shortens the time between cut­ting and baling helps to mitigate risk of weather losses. Using a mower/conditioner and tedder can be a great help in shortening that interval. Baling high-moisture hay (45-60%) and wrapping it for haylage is a practice that is expanding every year.

Preventing leaf loss during harvest is important. For this reason, alfalfa is frequently raked with the dew on. With the use of mold inhibitors, alfalfa can be baled at moistures approaching 30%. Likewise, grass hay should still be carry­ing some moisture when raked. Leaf shat­ter is unacceptably high when overly dry windrows are raked and baled. Use of net wrap greatly reduces loss of dry matter in movement and storage of the bale.

We realize that management of pastures and hay fields is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but putting these recommendations to use on your farm houls allow you to produce more - and better - hay on fewer acres than you have in the past and give you more forage for grazing this summer. 

If you need more information on forage management or are interested in MFA's Nutri-Track program, contact either of us: David Moore at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Landry Jones at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

David Moore is a MFA range and pasture specialist. Landry Jones is MFA's conservation grazing specialist. 

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