Skip Navigation Links
About UsExpand About Us
ProductsExpand Products
ProgramsExpand Programs
LocationsExpand Locations
DivisionsExpand Divisions
Skip Navigation Links
  Skip Navigation Links  

Enough to excel

Adding Co-op feed and mineral to a forage-based program helps John Chester’s beef cattle perform their best
Story and photos by Chris Villines 1/25/2018


The rain and biting wind on a recent winter morning didn’t stop John Chester from giving his cattle Co-op Supreme Hi-Mag Cattle Mineral (#638). The Weakley County cattleman and row crop producer is a proponent of using Co-op’s feed and mineral products to supplement forage for his 100 head of registered and commercial beef cattle.
1 of 5
view all thumbnails for this gallery
Something was missing. John Chester had graduated from the University of Tennessee-Martin in 2000, been offered the opportunity — which he accepted — to stay in town and help manage more than 5,000 acres of row crops for Fowler Farms shortly thereafter, and was making wedding plans with his then-girlfriend, Mary Margaret Pritchett. The couple tied the knot in 2002.

But there was a void, one that had roots dating back to his days growing up on his family’s East Tennessee dairy farm in Sweetwater.

“When I made my home in Martin and began row crop farming full time, I didn’t realize how much I missed cows,” says John, a Weakley Farmers Cooperative member who in 2008 won the American Farm Bureau’s prestigious national Excellence in Agriculture Award. “I enjoyed the forage production side of the dairy, but knew I didn’t want to get into the dairy business. In 2005, I was able to rent a farm that had some pasture acres, bought some cows, and started in beef cattle.”

Today, John has grown his operation to some 100 head spread across three herds — a 30-head herd of registered Angus and two commercial herds that are Angus influenced.

“All my registered cattle are straight black,” he says. “I raise some bulls out of that, and most of my replacement heifers come from this herd. With my commercial cows, I have started some cross-breeding with a Hereford bull.”

 Given his past experience, it’s not surprising that he concentrates on providing a variety of forages as the leading source of nutrition for the cattle.

“I really enjoy getting as much as I can out of a cow with a blade of grass or forage, whether it’s alfalfa, bermudagrass, or something else,” John says. “A cow is happiest and in her most natural position with her head down on the grass. About 75 percent of the pasture I have is good old West Tennessee bermudagrass. It’s tough and hardy and gives me a great base of forage through the warm, driest season.”

During the winter months, when good pasture is scarce, he feeds high-quality haylage that includes Marshall ryegrass, alfalfa, and, to a smaller degree, cereal rye and crimson clover.

“Because I’m a row crop farmer first, I’m able to raise winter annuals on ground that will be grazed in early spring, and that’s some of the best money I spend,” John says. “All of my cows are on a fall calving program, so my pairs will be grazing by the first of March. This gives my cows the opportunity to put back a lot of body weight from where they carried calves through the winter, and the calves will also put on 3 to 4 pounds a day beside their momma. I’ll wean those calves off before the first of June and get a soybean crop planted on the same acres.”

No matter the time of year, John says there’s another important component to the growth and development of his cattle — Co-op.

Consulting regularly with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Feed Specialist Jason Moore and with Martin store Manager Hal Adams, Assistant Manager Marty Townes, and the team at Weakley Farmers, John has accentuated his cattle’s forage program with Co-op feed and mineral products. It’s a partnership that he says works well.

“I’ll admit that I’ve waivered from Co-op products in the past, but I always find myself coming back,” John says. “Cheaper is not always better. You get what you pay for. And it was a whole lot harder and more time consuming for me trying to make things work without

Co-op. They’re an important part of my operation, no doubt.”

Through honest, open communication and assessment of what would best complement the cattle’s intake of forage, John followed the Co-op’s recommendation of adding Co-op products that include 14% Pelleted Beef Developer-RUM (#94176), Supreme Hi-Mag Cattle Mineral (#638) during the winter and Supreme IGR Cattle Mineral-CTC 5675 (#96643) during the summer for control of flies and anaplasmosis, a tickborne disease. He keeps mineral out free choice year-round.

“Since John has such a high-quality forage program, it doesn’t take a high amount of feed and mineral to help the cattle balance out nutritionally,” says Jason. “The 94176 and the Co-op mineral are a good insurance policy to help maintain growth and optimum levels for rebreeding and reproduction. I would be doing John an injustice if I told him to feed something else that didn’t mesh with his forage program.

“John is thorough with his forage program, treating it like a crop. We sample everything, know where it needs to go, and match the forage to the nutrient requirements of each group of cattle. Whether it’s a growing a group of bulls or heifers, he looks at everything like a business, as it should be.”

Before transitioning to the Co-op feed, John says he explored the idea of mixing his own feed. But after he put “pencil to paper,” he couldn’t justify the expense.

“With the alfalfa hay and corn we grow on the farm, I felt like it might be advantageous to start grinding my own feed and buying a supplement from Co-op,” he explains. “I couldn’t make it pay. Plus, my time is worth something; I didn’t want to be spending Christmas eve mixing a load of feed when I really want to be home with my family. It’s a whole lot easier to call Marty or Jason and tell them what I need and have the feed truck driver drop it off. Sometimes you have to pay for convenience, but the convenience I get from Co-op is very worthwhile.”

On the feed side, John says small amounts of the 94176 each day go a long way in helping his cattle thrive.

“From what I’ve found out, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds of the feed a day does a fantastic job developing heifers, and I use it in my commercial herd about six weeks before and after breeding season,” he says. “I hand feed about 90 percent of the time. Calves are creep fed for about three weeks to introduce them to feed and after that they are bucket fed in a pen by themselves as they come through a creep gate.”

In convincing John to begin using the Co-op feed, Jason says he issued a challenge:

“I told him to give me two months with a group of heifers on the 94176 and he would see an obvious difference.”

John says Jason’s words indeed rang true.

“You could just tell that they looked better,” says John. “It made them pop and gave them the flesh I wanted them to have going into their first breeding season.”

John stresses that the key to his mineral program is about achieving the best conception results.

“A cow needs an adequate mineral program to raise her next calf,” he says. “I use Co-op minerals because I feel like I’ve been able to tighten up my calving window. With the energy they get from the 94176 and the mineral package I’m using, it gives me the things that cow needs for her reproductive system to function correctly.

“One of my 30-cow commercial herds recently calved in 38 days; I’ll take a calving window under 40 days any time I can get it. That gives me an advantage to be able to sell those calves all in one lot.”

 And with John’s hectic schedule on the crops side, as a District 1 director on the Tennessse Farm Bureau state board, treasurer of the Northwest Tennessee Cattleman’s Association, and involvement in other ag industry endeavors, any opportunity to compartmentalize his time is a good one.

“I like to think I’ve found the perfect balance on the farm,” he says. “I love trying to get the right variety of corn on the right acreage to increase production, but I also enjoy trying to get the bull with the right pedigree on a cow to maximize weight and maternal characteristics and have the best steer calves and replacement heifers. Both areas are the same, in my opinion.”

For more information about Co-op’s complete line of cattle feed and mineral products, visit with the professionals at your local Co-op or online at

Keeping Up
Market watch
National ag news
Career OpportunitiesCareer opportunities
Catalogs & brochures
Get in touch
Education & more
Programs & projects
What's New?
This document copyright © 2019 by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. All rights reserved. Legal Notice