Selecting for feed efficiency in cattle
With more than 2 million cows on 68,000 farms, Missouri is the third-largest beef producer in the nation. Due to rising feed prices, farmers are struggling to provide feed for the cows that contribute more than $1 billion to Missouri's economy. University of Missouri researcher Monty Kerley, professor of animal nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is studying how cows might be able to gain more weight while consuming less, potentially saving farmers up to 40 percent of feed costs.
Two years ago, MU researchers started studying which biological processes could make cows feed-efficient. They examined the basic compound that cells use for energy, commonly known as ATP, using previous research that demonstrated how DNA influences weight gain in cows. Some animals can synthesize ATP faster than others, helping them to use energy more efficiently and, thus, gain more weight with less food. Kerley hopes that farmers will use this research to breed more feed-efficient cattle.
"We would love to go to the rancher and say, 'you can reduce your feed cost 40 percent with the same weight gain,'" Kerley said.
Kerley and his team are using a feed and weighing system that records individual intake and body weight of cattle daily. This research is being done at the Beef Research and Teaching Farm facility in MU's South Farm Agricultural Experiment Station. Whenever an animal steps to the bunk, or a trough, a computer notes the cows' arrival and departure times and how much they eat. When they drink, they stand on scales that keep track of their weights. If a beef producer just selected the top one-third of their most efficient cows, forage intake would be reduced by 20 percent, Kerley said.
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