Beef Industry Needs More Feed-Efficiency Data

Feed accounts for 65 percent to 80 percent of total beef-production costs. With grain prices at their highest levels ever, finding a way to lower those costs is important to cattle producers. Feed-management practices go only so far, however. A more promising tool for cattle producers is genetic selection for improved feed efficiency.

To help all cattle producers make better-informed selection decisions, Lauren Hyde, Ph.D., director of performance programs for the North American Limousin Foundation (NALF), encourages them to collect feed-efficiency data.

“A profitable beef industry will depend upon producing biologically and economically efficient cattle that produce high-quality meat products,” she said. “Several research studies have shown Limousin cattle excel in feed efficiency.”

For years, collecting data to understand feed efficiency was an expensive task. It required highly specialized equipment that was difficult, if not impossible, for beef producers to access. Technology now exists to make feed-efficiency data collection practical and widely available, Hyde noted.

One measure of feed efficiency is residual feed intake (RFI), which is the difference between actual and expected feed intakes. It is the net value (if any) that remains after an animal meets its requirements for maintenance and growth. When cattle consume less feed than expected, they have a negative RFI value, which indicates better-than-average feed efficiency.

Calculation of an animal’s RFI requires measuring its actual feed intake, average daily gain (ADG) and average metabolic weight, Hyde explained. A GrowSafe station measures animals for 70 days under a standard protocol that meets several organizations’ minimum guidelines. A GrowSafe system electronically monitors the feedbunk and records all cattle-feeding activity throughout the day.

A list of GrowSafe-equipped facilities is available via the “Genetic Evaluation” section of NALF’s Web site (www.nalf.org).

“For cattle producers who want proof of feed efficiency for the animals they are buying or selling, NALF recommends RFI testing,” Hyde said.

NALF plans to develop a genetic evaluation for feed efficiency after it collects enough RFI data, Hyde added. The organization will add a new expected progeny difference (EPD) to its current suite of traits, incorporate the data into additional selection indexes or combine it with DNA-marker data.

“No matter how we report the data, users of Limousin genetics will have the tools required to improve feed efficiency genetically,” she noted.

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