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Numbers Guide Decisions at Manning Cattle Co.

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, November 27, 2020

Through extensive recordkeeping and selective breeding, Clint Manning and his father have developed a high-quality beef cattle herd.

Their success didn't happen overnight. They have gradually improved the herd by keeping a close eye on the key metrics.

Today, Manning Cattle Co. in Macy is a thriving 111-head cow-calf operation featuring Angus and Gelbvieh breeding lines.

"Basically, the cow herd is three-quarter Angus and one-quarter Gelbvieh," said Clint's father, Ronnie. "That's what they call Balancer. Then we use Balancer bulls on the Balancer cows, and we end up with the same hybrid vigor, but you don't have to rotate bulls. You just use the composite bulls and the composite cows and you keep that same ratio in the cows."

All of the cows are all black, except for four red ones.

In addition to the hybrid vigor, Gelbvieh cattle have good maternal instincts, according to Ronnie, who is retired and is a former emergency medical technician.

He and Clint were introduced to Balancer cattle through Dr. Mark Hilton, former clinical professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine. He also ran the Beef Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program at Purdue.

The Mannings participated in the IRM program, and that's how they came to know Dr. Hilton.

Hilton raises Balancer cows and bulls, and the Mannings agreed with his breeding philosophy. Even though the IRM program has been phased out, they have continued to apply what they learned through the IRM program. They also purchased breeding stock from Hilton and liked the results.

Now, they are in a position to help other breeders and this year sold a few bred heifers for the first time.

"We've been following the protocol that we learned from the IRM program," Ronnie said, adding that Clint—an undergraduate lab manager at the University of Notre Dame—maintains extensive records on every cow in the herd. "First, we choose all the first-cut heifers through the records. We set parameters, and every heifer that meets those parameters goes through the first cut.

"And then we look at them and select for disposition—because we don't like anything that's wild—and confirmation. And if they make that second cut, then they get put with the bull."

Then they make a third cut, based on fertility. Open heifers are sent to the feedlot while pregnant heifers become part of the herd.

"Quite a few of them get cut before we even look them," Clint said, "just from the numbers."

Clint said he puts all of the metrics on a spreadsheet and examines each heifer's feminine characteristics. He uses a livestock management software program known as Cow Sense. The program ranks every heifer based on its Most Probable Producing Ability (MPPA).

"We'll set down and go through the numbers and (decide) 'nope, nope, nope" for the ones we won't even consider," he said. "Then when we actually go out and look at them, that's when we do a final yes or no."

Ronnie said the number of retained heifers varies each year, "whether it's a few or a bunch."

Feedback from IRM program showed that this approach was yielding strong results, Ronnie said. The Mannings had several cattle ranked near the top of the program.

Currently, they have three bulls that service the herd, two Balancers and one purebred Angus. They recently sold two other bulls, but those five animals successfully bred 111 cows this spring.

"We did AI (artificial insemination) for two years and we decided it wasn't for us," Ronnie said, adding that the AI conception rate was about the same as with a live bull. He and his son decided the results weren't worth the high cost.

The Mannings feed 100 percent of their hay and corn crops to the cattle. In a normal winter, they provide hay and protein supplement to their cows, but since their hay fields underproduced this year, Ronnie said they will be feeding corn along with hay and corn stalks. They will supplement with DDGS and high-energy liquid protein (Mix 30).

"We pick everything on the ear, still, because we want that cobb for roughage when we grind it," Clint said, adding with a chuckle, "and it's a lot cheaper than owning a combine."

Ronnie is excited about a recent experiment with Sudangrass silage bales. The warm-season grass was planted in the low spot of a muck field, where it's unsuitable to grow hay. The Mannings planted it after the first cutting of hay.

They can get three or four cuttings of Sudangrass each year, Ronnie said. To harvest, they mow it one day and wrap it the next. They started feeding the bales last week, and Ronnie said the cattle are eating every blade. They plan to plant even more of it next year.

During the summer, the Mannings use a rotational grazing system with irrigation.

For their marketing program, the Mannings sell their finished cattle at the auction barn in Rochester, but they also sell a small amount of freezer beef. Clint points out that 2020 has been a difficult year to schedule appointments at the local locker plant, due to the high demand for local beef. This has limited their ability to sell product to consumers, but this difficulty has led Clint and his son Brady to explore the possibility of someday opening their own processing plant.

The farm itself is rich in local history. Legend says their lowland farm, about one mile east of Gilead, was once home base for a band of horse thieves operating in Indiana and Ohio about a century ago. Also, a ditch cuts through their farm, providing a valuable water source for the cows. Ronnie said the ditch was dug to drain a lake in Macy.

The Mannings have been designated as River Friendly Farmer by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. They use buffer strips near the ditch and practice minimum tillage. They also strive to use as few chemicals as possible on their corn crop.

With his off-farm job at the University of Notre Dame, Clint says the farming operation depends on other people doing their part.

Clint and wife Beth have four other sons, Ethan, who is a state representative; Braxton, Steven and Ray. Each of the boys help during the busy times, and Beth serves as the farm's bookkeeper. Ronnie works full-time with the cattle.

Being an electrical engineer with a degree from ITT, Clint worked for a brief time at the Delco Electronics plant in Kokomo before moving on to Notre Dame, where he has spent the past 20 years working as a lab instructor in the electrical engineering department.

Having a background as an engineer gives him a unique perspective, but he said nothing could have prepared him for the COVID-19 pandemic. It disrupted the beef supply chain and caused prices to decline sharply. The result was that consumers couldn't find enough meat, and producers couldn't ship their cattle due to a backlog at the processing level. He believes the solution is to have more local processors, and that's the direction he is currently exploring with his family.

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