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 or ask for it at MFA Agri Services locations. E by Jason Jenkins 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. 10 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

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
Redefining rustic
Best of rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
Sleep like the grain
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - November 2012