No one ever said that finishing cattle in northeast Missouri was easy. If it is not the wild weather, it is the fluctuating feed cost or perhaps the mayhem in the marketplace that causes even the most stoic cattlemen to question their vocation.
Still, Lehenbauer Farms is making it work on their farm just west of Hannibal. Since 1959, the family has owned and operated the farm. Now under the direction of patriarch, Ron Lehenbauer, along with his sons, Mark and Andrew, they manage a diversified farm raising row crops and finishing cattle.
During the Northeast Missouri Beef Tour, they opened their operation to a crowd of 200 fellow farmers and ranchers. They three men shared that the key for cattle finishers to remain viable is to be flexible.
Fooling feed intake
According to Mark Lehenbauer, there are two limiting factors in feeding cattle in northeast Missouri—mud and heat. So to combat both of those the family chose to build a 100 by 200-foot barn that will house 390-head of cattle.
The building offers partially open sides, as well as, high rooflines. Mark explains that the design allow for heat from the cattle to rise keeping the cooler air around the cattle. The partially open sides enable cattle to benefit from cross circulation.
In the winter, cattle remain under roof out of the weather elements. They also are out of the mud. Cornstalk bales are used as bedding. The family can garner roughly 200 days out of one bale. It provides added comfort, keep the cows warm and dry. Manure is scraped to a slated floor in the middle of the barn for disposal.
Already, Mark can see a difference the barn makes with animal feed intake. "When we were feeding in an outdoor facility, calves would typically eat only in the morning and night. It was difficult to get consistent feed intake during the day," he explains. "The building helps the calves maintain a more constant body temperature and they are eating constantly."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
And fueling these calves requires a little nutrition knowledge, especially with a constantly changing ration.
Fixing feed costs
"To make money feeding cattle you have to manage the feed cost," Mark says. The family looks at what feedstuff is reasonably priced and then develops a ration from there. They will feed byproducts or grains.
"We feed whatever is cheap," he adds. Instead of looking for one feed source, the family shops for "good buys." Last year, the family fed corn silage, this year it is corn.
They buy in quantity and have they have the facilities to store it long term. They do not worry about feed losses. "If it is a cheap enough feed source," Mark adds, "you can afford some loss."
The calves adjust quickly to the different feed textures. Mark says he does not see a difference in intake levels when they change feed rations. "We change it quite often," he adds. "They seem to adjust quickly."
Finishing for new markets
All calves in the barn come straight from farmers. "We do not purchase from sale barns, because we do not want to run the risk of sick calves," Mark explains. Lehenbauer Farms has a health protocol designed for the operation. In addition, knowing the local farmer allows them to obtain a health history of the calf.
Lehenbauer Farms sells beef through U.S. Premium Beef, a marketing company owned by beef producers. The company allows producers to retain ownership of their beef until they are marketed through National Beef Packing Co., LLC.
Mark admits that premiums for specialty beef has come declined. In the past, the family always sold age and source verified, or ASV, cattle. "But the premiums are no longer there," he says.
Still, they continue to look for ways to add value to their beef. He says they are exploring implant free cattle premiums for the European Union. "We are trying to keep an open mind and see where we can capture money, and see if it makes sense for our operation."