Rural Missouri - November 2012 - (Page 10)
Doing away with the ‘old scrub bull’
New book chronicles MFA’s impact on Missouri’s dairy industry at the dawn of artiﬁcial breeding
superior genetics, thereby increasing milk production and efﬁciency. Fewer cows producing the same amount of milk meant fewer costs, less labor and more proﬁt. “Every MFA member of this association can dispose of his own bull and in its place keep an extra milk cow,” Klinefelter wrote. “When it is remembered that the average-sized dairy herd in this area is only six cows, one can see at a glance what this new program will mean to the farm families who milk cows for a living.” With the assistance of Harry Herman, a professor and researcher at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MFA selected the ﬁrst 28 bulls for its bull farm at an average cost of $1,269 (roughly $15,000 in today’s dollars). “MFA was fortunate that Dr. Harry Herman was in Missouri,” says Underwood, who grew up on a small registered Holstein farm near Fair Play. “He pioneered many AI techniques and technologies. If it wasn’t for him, the stud probably would have faltered. It was like having Bill Gates next door helping you with your computer.” Fresh semen was collected from bulls at the Springﬁeld farm and shipped to MFA inseminators who each had a territory. Dairymen would contact the inseminator when they had a cow in heat, and the inseminator would travel to the farm and complete the AI procedure. Without question, the most unique chapter in the MFA Artiﬁcial Breeding Association’s history opened in March 1950 when the “Flying Bulls” began sweeping across the Ozark sky. Because of the perishable nature of fresh semen, speedy transportation was critical. If delivery took more than a day, conception rates could suffer. The Ozark terrain and transportation infrastructure, however, provided a challenge. Though MFA was not the ﬁrst AI company to experiment with aerial delivery, it was the most successful at it. During those years, bulls would be collected at 2 a.m. in order to have the semen processed and ready for delivery by 6 a.m. when the planes would begin their routes. At ﬁrst, two primary routes — one north and one south — were ﬂown Monday through Saturday. Pilots traveled as far east as Alton and as far north as Sedalia. The aerial delivery had an immediate impact on the AI industry. In the ﬁrst year of the program, MFA’s conception rates increased nearly 10 percent, further improving the value of the service to the co-op’s members. “We took off at ﬁrst light and seldom got over 300 feet above the ground,” wrote Flying Bull pilot David Olinger in a 2006 letter to MFA. “I’ve seen the ‘procedure’ from semen extraction to insemination, and it never seemed to be any fun for anyone — including the bull and the cow. I deﬁnitely had the best time of anyone involved in this operation.” The spectacle would be short lived, however. Just as the transcontinental telegraph made the Pony Express obsolete after only 18 months of operation, technological advances in artiﬁcial insemination grounded the Flying Bulls. By 1953, extenders and antibiotics increased the shelf life of fresh semen up to ﬁve days, making rapid delivery less urgent. Roads also improved. In January 1956, the business, now known as MFA Dairy Breeders, opened new facilities to much local fanfare. An article in the Springﬁeld Daily News touted the farm’s impact. “The old scrub bull — the herd bankrupter — once found on nearly every Ozark farm has almost been wiped out in the past decade.” The newspaper’s statement exaggerated the status of the industry. MFA was only breeding about 15 percent of Missouri’s dairy cows. While capacity existed to service 250,000 cows a year, the AI business had leveled off at about 80,000 cows. It seemed the greatest stumbling block was no longer transportation but adoption of technology among dairymen. “Missouri had a problem of dairy producers not being progressive enough,” Underwood says. “If MFA had sold twice as much semen, it would have made a big difference.” In 1957, the advent of frozen semen brought new challenges that ultimately would spell the end of the MFA venture. The advancement meant fewer bulls and stud services were required. In the past, 50 percent or more of fresh semen had to be discarded. Now, 100 percent of what a bull produced could be sold. By 1962, there were only 56 bull studs nationwide, down from a high of 96 in 1953. The 1960s led to consolidations and mergers with other breeding services. In 1962, all of the MFA bulls were moved to Minnesota, and by January 1967, the cooperative was no longer involved in the AI industry. Today, the Wisconsin-based company Genex can trace its roots back to MFA. “MFA really accomplished something in its era,” concludes Underwood. “It wasn’t a ﬂunky little bull stud. In the day, they had bulls on par with the best bull studs in the nation.” “Sires of Distinction” is available for $29.95 plus tax, shipping and handling. Visit www.todaysfarmer.com/shop or ask for it at MFA Agri Services locations.
by Jason Jenkins firstname.lastname@example.org
arly on a spring morning, dairy cattle graze across an Ozark pasture, their tails rhythmically swishing back and forth, chasing away the occasional ﬂy. As they chew their cud, the drone of a single-engine monoplane breaks the pastoral silence. The low-ﬂying aircraft passes over, and something falls from the sky. A small parachute opens, and the package gently ﬂoats to the ground — another successful delivery for the “Flying Bulls.” For nearly four years during the 1950s, a small squadron of planes allowed dairies across the Missouri Ozarks to access the latest breeding technology: artiﬁcial insemination. A new book, “Sires of Distinction,” written by John Underwood of Sparta, chronicles the impacts of the MFA Artiﬁcial Breeding Association, which helped improve the proﬁtability of the dairy industry in the Show-Me State. In the 1940s, MFA ofﬁcials concluded that gains in milk output among the cooperative members’ herds were based on quantity, not quality. Individual cow numbers had risen, but average milk production per cow hadn’t increased in 15 years. Artiﬁcial insemination techniques that developed in Europe reached Missouri in 1938, and leaders believed artiﬁcial breeding was the logical step toward ﬁner dairy herds. The MFA Artiﬁcial Breeding Association was formed in January 1946, and a bull stud service was established just outside Springﬁeld. “It will put the smallest dairyman in southwest Missouri in position to breed his cows to some of the ﬁnest bulls in the land for a fee of $6, which is less for his entire herd than it would cost him to keep a bull of his own,” wrote H.E. Klinefelter, editor of Missouri Farmer, in a Jan. 15, 1946, article about the new program. “Moreover, the smaller dairyman or even the dairyman with a good-sized herd could never hope to own a bull of the quality such as is found at the MFA Artiﬁcial Breeding Association’s farm.” The organization’s plan was ambitious: provide dairies with access to
photos courtesy of MFA Incorporated
A “Flying Bull” pilot loads the day’s deliveries. MFA hired an independent contractor, Erwin and Martin of Springﬁeld, to make the aerial deliveries. Two primary routes — one north and one south — were ﬂown Monday through Saturday.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - November 2012
Rural Missouri - November 2012
Doing away with the ‘old scrub bull’
Cooperation among co-ops
Addicted to duck calls
Out of the Way Eats
Best of rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
Sleep like the grain
Rural Missouri - November 2012
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