This story also appears in our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Research Center Magazine. Stop by your local Research Center to pick up a copy!
When the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Thompson Research Center was established in 1955, its goal was to research crop production, soils and insect controls.
Beef cattle research was introduced at Thompson in 1963 – and has been the calling card of Thompson ever since.
Thompson, located near Spickard, is nationally recognized for its research focused on beef herd management, including reproductive performance, heifer development and animal health factors. With incredibly strong reproductive and genomic work, Thompson continues to serve as a great resource for high-quality research.
The Thompson Research Center maintains 250 Angus cows in its herd and retains 80 to 100 replacement heifers to work with each year.
“The Center is a great resource,” said David Patterson, professor of reproductive physiology in the Division of Animal Sciences who has led the charge in terms of reproductive work at Thompson. “Angus cows are incredibly common in Missouri, and it’s great to have a commercial, straight-bred Angus herd at Thompson to work with. The herd size serves as an ideal resource for us in terms of evaluating how treatments we impose are working.”
Patterson said the goal of the research and breeding program at Thompson has been to develop fixed-time artificial insemination (AI) programs for beef cows and heifers. As part of that, producing premium quality, ‘white table cloth’ beef is a product of the breeding program.
“It’s important to evaluate protocols before we take them out to farms and ranches in Missouri or across the country,” Patterson said.
Patterson has earned numerous USDA grants since 2000 to support reproductive research at the Thompson Research Center. Those grant topics include: developing precise methods of estrous cycle control for postpartum beef cows and replacement beef heifers (2000-2005); an integrated approach to development and application of precise methods of estrous cycle control for beef heifers and cows (2005-2008); an integrated approach to expand marketing opportunities for small- and medium-sized beef producers from value-added heifers and steer (2007-2012); and identification and management of alleles impairing heifer fertility while optimizing genetic gain in Angus cattle (2013-2017).
“A lot of our work is aimed at the development of protocols that essentially facilitate appointment breeding,” Patterson said. “We have used highly-proven, high-accuracy Angus sires in the AI program with the focus, in terms of breeding, to produce high-quality beef. USDA funding has been tied to the work we do and have done.
“A lot of our research feeds into the Show-Me Select Replacement Heifer program.”
To go along with the financial support of their research in the form of grants, numerous publications have come from the research conducted at the Center.
Thompson has been the site where Patterson and other collaborators have developed and evaluated breeding protocols for heifers and cows. Their research led to the development of the 14-day CIDR-PG (Show-Me-Synch) protocol for heifers, which is used extensively across the US and internationally. More recent research efforts developed by Patterson’s students led to a new breeding strategy designed to improve pregnancy rates following fixed-time AI referred to split-time AI. This breeding strategy originated from research designed to improve pregnancy rates using sex-sorted semen in conjunction with fixed-time AI.
“Research that led to expanded use of these protocols began at Thompson,” Patterson said.
That reproductive work has keyed new research in terms of genomic work. Jared Decker, a MU Extension beef geneticist, has led that charge, building off of what Patterson and his group have already accomplished.
“What makes the genetics projects work is all of the reproductive work that has been done over the last 20 years,” Decker said. “The reason that work is so important is that Thompson had access and used some of the best sires in all of the industry. Those protocols lead to top-quality genetics. The Thompson herd is a perfect example of what can be accomplished if everything is done the correct way.”
Over a two-year period beginning in 2013, Thompson started DNA testing its herd with a commercial test called GeneMax Advantage. Every female at Thompson has been through the testing – and each new calf crop goes through the same DNA testing.
“It’s nice because those same trends that we’ve seen in the increase in performance, we see those same increases in genetic merit, as predicted by this test,” Decker said. “It’s an important data set to have. It does a great job of saying what the genomic prediction can do.”
Decker said they have seen numerous improvements in performance across a large variety of traits, such as calving ease, weaning weight, marbling and carcass weight, among many others. All of those traits are economically important. Those improvements have come due in part to making correct decisions in terms of genetics facilitated through use of AI.
“This is what makes Thompson so unique,” Decker said. “We’re doing our best to use the correct tools to make our selection decisions, whether it be economic data, EPDs or DNA testing. There are so many opportunities out there for beef producers to use.
“Thompson really is a shining star of what you can achieve if you start using these practices. For me, and I may be a little biased, if you’re thinking about doing beef genomics research, Mizzou has the best team to do that with. It’s a no brainer.”
Sharing that research and educating the public is part of the mission of Thompson as well. The Center hosts an annual field day each September to provide support and information for beef producers in the state.
“With our great research, it’s so important to educate and inform the beef industry about the opportunities that are available,” Decker said. “This is the Show-Me state. Producers are usually hesitant about new technologies until they see the results. It’s our job to conduct that research and share it with the public.”
Farm manager Jon Schreffler and the farmhands at Thompson also play a key role in the success of the Center. They maintain the herd and take care of the day-to-day tasks.
“They are a huge part of the Center’s success,” Decker said.
Graduate students also play a key role in all of the research done at the Thompson Research Center. The Center serves as a training ground for those students and provides them with real-world experiences.
“It really is a perfect situation for our students,” Patterson said. “Our students lead a lot of the projects. It’s just a great opportunity all the way around.”