Land O'Lakes Alliance helps producers collect the numbers they need to know.

Ask any producer why they joined an alliance, and most will say it was to get carcass information back on their calves. Greeley, NE, cattlemen Shawn O'Connor and Mick Foster participate in the Cenex/Land O'Lakes Strategic Alliance for that very reason.

"I wanted to see how my cattle were doing," says O'Connor who runs 150 commercial cows.

The opportunity to provide cattlemen with the feedback they were looking for is what prompted Cenex/Land O'Lakes to form its alliance program four years ago, says Kevin Wagner, beef production specialist with Land O'Lakes Feed.

The Land O'Lakes Strategic Alliance can be found across Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, and has hopes of branching into Kansas and the Dakotas, Wagner says. The program focuses on helping local groups of interested cattlemen gather the individual animal feeding and carcass information needed to determine if changes in genetics or management are warranted. Near Greeley, NE, Wagner works with one feedlot and about six producers.

To participate in the alliance, calves must be preconditioned (weaned a minimum of 30 days and vaccinated) and are accepted in groups of 50 or more in participating feedlots. In addition to feed, producers are charged $4.50-7.50/head to have carcass data collected.

Room For Improvement - Wagner sees getting performance information and carcass data as a necessary first step for making future decisions. "Once producers know where they stand, they can enhance their marketing options," says Wagner.

But with that first step, many producers like O'Connor and Foster have found there's always room for improvement.

"I was surprised," says O'Connor of the first carcass data he got back when he started working with the alliance four years ago. Since then, with Wagner's help, he's changed the way he selects bulls by using EPD's more and now focuses on just two breeds, Angus and Braunvieh.

"It's been a real learning tool for producers to begin to understand carcass traits and what's ideal for the industry," says Wagner.

It's been a learning experience for Ken Ryan and his father Pat as well. The Ryans operate a 1,000-head feedlot near Greeley, NE, where they finish 500-600 head of calves that they buy annually as well as cattle in the Land O'Lakes alliance.

The Ryans got involved with the alliance to improve their feeding program. "It's kind of like having a test plot in a corn field and seeing which varieties do the best in which conditions," says Ken.

They have made some changes. "With Land O'Lakes we're feeding cattle harder and faster. That's proven to be more cost-efficient," Ken says. He says being involved with the alliance has also taught them what type of cattle to select for their feedlot.

Once the data comes back, Land O'Lakes gives producers direction on which grids best fit their cattle, says Wagner.

Foster has sold his cattle for a premium through the Angus America Alliance for the past three years. But, he likes the idea that he's not tied to any one marketing option. "Knowing your data helps you find the best market for your cattle from year to year," says Foster.

After three years of marketing his cattle with Land O'Lakes, this year O'Connor didn't have time to precondition his calves so he sold them through the sale barn. He says in the future he'll be back. "It's a definite advantage to stay involved with the alliance."

For more information on the Land O'Lakes Strategic Alliance contact Evan Vermeer or Merlin Schlote at 800/369-3060.