High feed, fertilizer and fuel costs make good performance vital for Mississippi’s beef cattle farmers and their customers. “Everything we do is more expensive now, so we have to become more efficient at what we do,” says Gary Tanner of the long-established Tanner family farm in Shuqualak. “We look at how well the cattle are performing. If they are not performing, we can’t keep them.” Tanner Farms documents performance on its 1,900 purebred Angus and crossbred cows. They also manage 4,000 acres of pasture, harvest up to 4,000 round bales of hay and grow 500 acres of corn for cattle feed, Tanner says. Quality management ensures satisfied customers, which includes cattlemen from 28 states who seek to improve their herds with the Tanner family’s breeding stock. Jane Parish, Mississippi State University Extension beef cattle specialist, says cattle farmers have to be good businesspeople and manage risk in today’s cattle industry. They have to be diligent about herd health, manage forages well and select good genetics, she says. “Mississippi is really moving ahead as far as developing a good reputation for its cattle,” Parish says. “We have a lot of good producers who are using genetics well and putting good management in nutrition and health.” Beef cattle are in each of Mississippi’s 82 counties, Parish says, and the state has about 1 million cattle. About half of the cattle farms maintain a cow-calf focus, where cows give birth to calves annually. Those calves generally sell to feedlots, where they are fed to market weight. The state also includes a vibrant stocker cattle sector, a growing bright spot in the industry, she says. In this case, farmers feed weaned calves to heavier weights before selling the calves to feedlots. The total value of Mississippi’s beef industry ranked sixth among the state’s agricultural commodities in 2012, according to Mississippi State University. John Michael Riley, an extension economist at the university, estimates the value of calves sold off Mississippi farms at $329 million in 2012. Mississippi’s foreign beef exports totaled $13.6 million in 2011, Riley says. Cattle sold across state borders are not tracked or reported, but he estimates that the large majority of Mississippi calves are sent to feedlots in the Southwest or Midwest. Parish says better management among today’s cattle farmers has led to higher quality cattle with more market opportunities. The Tanners sell breeding stock to other cattle farmers. The farm hosts cattle sales and draws a large customer base within 200 miles of the farm. Yet recent sales have attracted cattlemen from throughout the United States. Tanner says the family breeds for strong maternal traits, high growth and good dispositions. The result will be calves that can gain rapidly. They breed bulls accustomed to the heat and humidity of their Southern environment. They test young bulls in pasture environments to see how they perform. The family stands behind their animals and offers customers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee on their stock. “We’re always striving to improve our cattle so we can ensure a quality product for our customers,” says Tanner. The family plans to market their cattle to even wider audiences and ensure a promising future for the next generation of Tanners.