Matt Shekels and his wife, Terrie, are busy raising cattle with the help of cutting edge technology, information and raising a family of three boys.
Back in March, Matt hosted the Adult and Youth Leadership groups during Ag Days and surprised them with bottles of milk produced at College of the Ozarks (CofO). The traditional flavors of white and chocolate were available including a new cappuccino flavor.
The students laughed about the new breed of cappuccino cow. CofO is also producing various flavors of milk and sold on campus at Edwards Mill by the lake.
Shekels is an instructor for the College of the Ozarks and works his farm. He talked to the guests about rotational grazing and beef seed stock production.
Matt was raised on a dairy farm and has been in the farming business all his life. When the guests realized he had dairy farm experience, they asked why milk was so cheap right now, and did that hurt the farmers. He explained that we are fortunate that two local grocery stores are in a price war over milk and eggs.
“The dairy industry is struggling, so drink lots of milk. The milk produced in the United States is the safest product. There are 17 different tests done on milk. In fact,” he said. “Any agriculture product in the United States is going to be the safest in the world. Milk gets processed and to the consumer in a very short amount of time. It could be to you within 24-36 hours of leaving the farm. It’s very fresh.” He told the group that milk in the United States goes through 17 different tests to make sure there is no bacteria included.
The Shekels family ended their dairy career in 2009 and Matt began concentrating on beef production in 2011 beginning with 14 heifers. They currently own or rent 500 acres and work with 300 cow/calf pairs on their farm.
Shekels buys embryos as seed stock and sells replacement bulls and heifers. “I try to get the best genetics I can and then sell replacement bulls and heifers to people that will use them and then sell the calves at market. I also have feeder calves to help with cash flow while I get the genetics where I want them.”
“My goal is to get high quality beef that people want and will perform well for them,” he said. Using genetics he gets a higher quality beef and cattle that perform well. He specializes in black angus and tries to select the best genetics that are important to his customers.
“Every business is concerned with making a profit and the only way that is done is cutting the bottom line and increasing revenue,” he said. “That’s what we have to do on a farm, too.”
He has to take into consideration calving season and the cost of feed. Rotational grazing is a cheaper way to feed the cattle what is already growing.
“We look for ways to make our farm more sustainable. We give the grass a resting time and it produces more forage. So we move the cows to different pastures for healthier cows and it’s good for me, too,” the adults and teenagers laughed. “It’s cheaper for me to let them eat what’s growing out there, than going to the feed store. We try to work with nature to stay in business.”
Shekels said it takes approximately one acre per cow to maintain his herd properly. He also spoke to the guests about vaccinations and mineral nutritional supplements. He puts together his own feed with minerals and soy pellets added. “It’s very good for the cow,” he said.
He makes use of ethanol by-products that are turned into feed. “We don’t waste anything,” he said.
He explained EPDs (expected progeny differences) to the tour group. “You have to know what your customers need. Back when we were doing dairy cattle, we were keeping records about each cow and what they produced — all the details including calving information. With the data kept we can match the animals to produce the best calves that will be easy for the momma to deliver.”
He has a “bull book” he uses to purchase semen so he doesn’t have the headache of keeping bulls on the property. The semen is cryogenically frozen and transported by UPS to farmers. A tank of semen samples are stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 325 F.
“If I take good care of my cows and the land, it’s going to be good for me. Whatever farm industry you are in, the farmer is focused on working with nature. Some think farmers are all about the profit. Yes, we have to make some money and stay in business, but we try to be good caretakers of the land and animals,” he said.