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Shield Plus is standard practice on Ronnie Heaton's cattle operation

Cattleman Ronnie Heaton tries to do things right on his farm outside of Vandalia, Mo. His pastures are well managed, and his cows are rotated on schedule. His facilities are set up and maintained to ensure safety when handling the cattle. And he takes a proactive approach to cow health and nutrition.

That approach includes giving MFA Shield Plus to newborn calves within their first hours of life. It’s been standard practice on the Heaton farm ever since MFA Livestock Key Account Manager Wendy Flatt Beard gave the cattleman a few samples of the proprietary product to try last year.

“We always work the calves the day they’re born,” Heaton said. “Since we already have the calf down to ear tag it, I just carry the bottle of Shield Plus in my pocket and give them a squirt of it before I let them up. We’ve had nothing but good experiences with it.”

Developed to be administered to newborn or stressed an­imals, Shield Plus comes in liquid or paste forms. It’s one of the most popular products in MFA’s Shield Technology lineup, which is formulated for multiple species. The concentrated colostrum extract, synbiotics, botanical extracts, fatty acids and vitamins in Shield Plus help promote animal health and immu­nity from the get-go. In addition, freeze-dried egg antibodies help combat scours, one of the most serious problems that plague newborn calves.

Heaton raises 80 Hereford-Angus cow/calf pairs. Though most of the spring calving on his farm happens in mid-March, later than on many cattle operations, Beard still refers to the time of year as “sprinter”—a combination of spring and winter. She generally helps Heaton work his cattle during this in-between season.

“It’s just hard on calves,” Beard said. “Last year, it was still cold and wet, and that’s pretty much the norm now. You can tell those baby calves just need a little extra something.”

It’s a difference you can see, Heaton ac­knowledged, noting specifically the calves’ temperament and energy levels after admin­istering Shield Plus.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “But within the first day or few hours— basically as soon as we can get our hands on it—that calf is going to get a dose of Shield.”

Heaton and his wife, Joyce, reside and raise cattle on land that was once her father’s farm. Much of their pasture ground lies adjacent to their home or is rented from neighbors nearby. An old two-story farmhouse that sits within eyesight just down the road marks Heaton’s own roots.

“My great-granddad built that house in 1894,” Heaton said. “I was raised about three miles from here. Our family has been around this area for about 150 years.”

In 1871, Heaton’s great-grandfather moved to this area from Marion County, Ill.

“If memory serves me right, he bought the farm for $10 an acre,” Heaton said. “People have asked me why he didn’t buy up on the prairie between Vandalia and Farber. Well, that area was mostly swamp back then—buffalo grass and rattlesnakes and not much timber to actually use to build a house.”

Heaton started farming himself at age 24 after returning from the Vietnam War in 1973. Rows of corn and soybeans once stood where his cattle now graze.

“When I got out of the service, I went to work at the brick plant in Vandalia and rented this place from my father-in-law to row-crop,” Heaton said. “I was young and eager and had a plan.”

In addition to row-cropping, he invested in hogs. In 1978, Heaton said he made more money than he’d ever dreamed he would make in one year, but in 1979, the bottom fell out when a localized drought hit the area.

“That was kind of the beginning of the end for my farming,” Heaton said. “There were three droughts in five years, and when interest rates went to 18%, there was no way.”

Like many others, Heaton went to work off the farm in 1983.

“I was fortunate enough to get hired on to the second shift at General Motors in Wentzville,” Heaton said. “I worked there and farmed part time. My wife ran a small insurance agency, and we slowly built our way back up.”

His goal was always to return to cattle production, which Heaton describes as his “first love.”

“My dad always farmed,” he said. “When I was 9 years old, our milk cow had a calf—it was a little half-Jersey, half-Angus calf. When it was small, it had something wrong with it, and my dad told me if I could save that calf, I could have it. What I remember most is that every night before I went to bed, my mom or dad would mix up a bottle of milk with some Terramy­cin in it, and I would go to the barn to give the calf a bottle.”

The calf lived, and Heaton kept it.

As a high school freshman, he raised a show calf. When he sold it, however, others convinced him pigs would be more profitable. Still, like most teenagers, Heaton would doodle on the edges of his notebooks in class. His doodles, though, were diagrams of feedlots and cattle pastures.

When Heaton retired from General Motors, he took the few cattle he already had and decided to grow the herd. He built fences and converted crop fields into pastures. The Heatons’ son, Jamie, an elevator supervisor at MFA Agri Services in Van­dalia, also bought into the operation.

“My son and I continually talk about how we can tweak our program a little more,” Heaton said. “We try to buy the right genetics and save back our own heifers. All of our cattle are vaccinated and documented through the Health Track program. We’re always learning, and there’s always room for improvement, but we’ve been farming for enough years now that we’re probably doing more culling than anything—taking off the bottom end rather than adding to the top.”

That isn’t to say they don’t have challenges, Heaton said. Like most farmers, weather and prices are regular frustrations. One of their goals is to transition the operation completely to a fall-calving cycle to avoid those “sprinter” months, as Beard de­scribed it. Currently, the herd’s calving seasons are split roughly 50/50 between spring and fall, and Heaton estimates the change­over will take two years.

Even when that happens, Heaton insisted, the use of Shield Plus will continue to be a proactive protocol for all the farm’s calves.

“Out of 74 calves this year, we haven’t had any respiratory or intestinal issues,” Heaton said. “I told Wendy the other day, I don’t know what’s in it. All I know is it works, and I’m going to use it.”

For more information on Shield Plus or other Shield Tech­nology products, contact your local MFA Agri Services or visit online at mfa-inc.com/Products/Feed/Shield.

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Lighting up the town

As the sun started to set on a cold December afternoon, trucks, wagons and tractors filled the MFA Agri Services parking lot in Centralia, Mo. These com­mon, everyday vehicles and implements were soon transformed into a collection of illuminated wonders as local farmers hooked up twinkling Christmas lights to generators.

Tractors became Thomas the Tank Engine. Hay wagons transported elves on the Polar Express. A Grinch-inspired John Deere, covered in green lights, pulled a sleigh full of toys stolen from the kids of Whoville.

For the 14th year in a row, Centralia will host its annual lighted tractor parade on Dec. 18, 2020, pending any COVID restrictions. Sponsored by the Centralia Young Farmers association, the event is now a cherished community tradition. Lo­cal farmer Brian Schnarre, one of the parade’s founders, had seen something similar in another small town and suggested it to the group.

“I think we had 26 floats the first year,” Schnarre said. “They thought it was a great idea, and it’s just been growing ever since.”

The parade is open to anyone who wants to enter. And while coronavirus con­cerns cause some uncertainty surrounding this year’s event, challenges aren’t new to those who have participated previously.

“I remember the very first year, it was pretty foggy,” said Darren Reynolds, another farmer and parade participant, who was 35 years old at the time. “It was almost questionable whether you should even drive a tractor to town or not, but for as small as it was, there were a lot of people watching. The fog in the air really made the lights glow. It was neat. It was probably one of my favorite years.”

What started as a small group of participants now encompasses more than 75 exhibits every year. In fact, it’s so large now that the parade loops around the entire downtown, the front often returning to the MFA parking lot before the last vehicles have left.

Many farmers start working on their entries after the crops come out of the field. In some years, that allows only a short window between harvest and the parade. Local farmer and vol­unteer firefighter Adam Brown helped decorate a fire truck the first year, and in later years pulled a float resembling a candy cane, made out of an auger and PVC pipe wrapped in ribbon and lights.

“It’s a lot of work,” Brown said. “A couple of years we were still busy in the field, so we had to stop participating, but so many people are involved now.”

Like many parades, the floats range in complexity. Brian Vance, who raises row crops and cattle, recalled one of his favorite entries from previous years.

“One year, a friend of mine pulled a camper covered in lights with the movie Christmas Vacation playing through the win­dows,” Vance said. “He was out in front of it in a white bathrobe and hat dressed like Cousin Eddie. At that point, it was the coldest year we had ever had. He had to be freezing, but he said it was worth the cold just to get the laugh.”

Every year gets just a little bit better, Schnarre said.

“We just do it to have fun,” he said. “When you see all the kids waving at you and smiling, it’s worth it.”

As an added bonus, the parade also brings tourists into the community, Schnarre said. The event has expanded beyond just the parade itself. Restaurants and shops stay open late. On the square, food trucks set up for the event, and there are reindeer exhibits for kids to pet.

At MFA, the parade’s staging grounds, Manager Jim Gesling and MFA employees serve hot chocolate, chili and homemade ice cream.

“It’s become something that in previous years has brought some of the largest crowds we see in this commu­nity all year,” Reynolds said, adding that now, instead of building a float, he’s content to take his 9-year-old twins to watch. “I just don’t feel like there’s anything else in our community that brings as many people out.”

Visit Centralia, MO Lighted Tractor Parade on Facebook for more informa­tion. Note that there is another Cen­tralia lighted tractor parade in Wash­ington state, so be sure to put “MO” in your search. This year the parade will look a little different due to COVID-19. There will be a reverse parade on December 18th. Tractors will be parked in the fields along Route CC between Centralia and Sturgeon. Spectators are welcome to drive the route anytime between 7 PM and 9 PM. For route information click here

CLICK HERE is a LINK to the Google Map Route of the 2020 reverse Parade.

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