University of Missouri Southwest Research Center: Expanding and Improving the Beef Herd

What does it mean to have a successful cow herd in the Ozarks? What should be the genetic focus? How do we select and manage cattle to perform on toxic endophyte-infected fescue? What technologies can be used profitably? What marketing opportunities could add value to the cattle? These are questions facing every beef operation in Southwest Missouri, including the University of Missouri Southwest Research Center. As the Center moves away from a focus on grazing dairy production, faculty and staff at the Southwest Research Center and on campus at the University of Missouri recognize there is now an opportunity to increase the emphasis placed on beef cattle Research and Extension at the Southwest Research Center. With support from the Southwest Research Center Advisory Board and key stakeholders in the regional and national beef industry, an effort to expand and improve the Southwest Research Center beef herd is now underway.

A Beef Focus for Southwest Missouri

A defined objective and structured breeding plan is critical to the success of any beef operation. Based on input from producers and stakeholders in the region, the primary focus of the Southwest Research Center’s breeding program will be on maternal traits that result in functional, fertile cows that excel in this region of the country. The breeding plan for the Center will be structured so as to maintain a commercial herd of crossbred, Red Angus based commercial females. Replacement heifers will be generated through use of artificial insemination (AI). Therefore, primary emphasis will be placed on the HerdBuilder index, Stayability EPD, and Heifer Pregnancy EPD in selecting sires for AI. Carcass and marketability will be a secondary focus of the herd, with consideration given to these traits when selecting sires as well. In selecting natural service sires, terminal growth performance will be emphasized, with natural service sires selected from different breeds for maximum heterosis and breed complementarity in a defined crossbreeding program.

Beef cow inventory as of 1/1/2018.
Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Southwest Missouri: The Heart of Missouri Cow-Calf Production

The University of Missouri Southwest Research Center is located in the heart of Missouri cow-calf country. With expansion and improvement of the Center’s cow herd, the Southwest Research Center seeks to become a model farm for beef producers in the region, demonstrating profitable use of reproductive and genomic technologies.

A Model Farm for Use of Reproductive and Genomic Technology

Rather than purchasing new females and depopulating the current cowherd, the current herd will be converted over the coming years through progressive use of reproductive and genomic technologies. This is intended to serve as a demonstration to producers in Southwest Missouri and the broader region of the value of these technologies in improving a cow herd over time. To provide an opportunity for producers to see reproductive and genomic technologies in action, demonstration days and workshops will be organized at the Southwest Research Center in partnership with MU Extension Faculty and Regional Livestock Specialists. In addition, the efforts to expand and improve the herd over the coming years will provide real-world data about the impact of reproductive and genomic technologies, such as:
  • Improvement in genetic merit
  • Improvement in the proportion of females conceiving early
  • Improvement in calf performance, value, and marketability
  • Improvement in calf crop uniformity over successive breeding seasons


Integrating Applied Research and Extension

In addition to serving as an example in the region of effective use of technologies, the Southwest Research Center beef herd will be a valuable resource for applied research efforts. In partnership with the Southwest Research Center, faculty in the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri have identified the following areas of research interest:
  • Managing cattle on toxic endophyte-infected fescue
  • Novel strategies for estrus synchronization and timed AI
  • Genomic prediction and selection
  • Profitable use of sex-sorted semen
  • Development and application of region-specific EPDs
  • Facilitating crossbreeding through use of reproductive technologies
  • Reducing rates of early embryonic loss
Expansion and improvement of the Southwest Research Center beef herd will involve ongoing support from University of Missouri Beef Extension Faculty, including Jordan Thomas, Jared Decker, Scott Poock, Eric Bailey, and Eldon Cole. David Cope is the superintendent at the Southwest Research Center.


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