Feed accounts for 65%-80% of total beef-production costs. With grain prices at their highest levels ever, finding a way to lower those costs is important to beef 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, PhD, 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 says. Technology is available to make feed-efficiency data collection practical and widely available, Hyde notes.
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 explains. 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 website. “For cattle producers who want proof of feed efficiency for the animals they are buying or selling, NALF recommends RFI testing,” Hyde says.
NALF plans to develop a genetic evaluation for feed efficiency after it collects enough RFI data, Hyde adds. 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.
The North American Limousin Foundation , headquartered in Centennial, Colo., provides programs and services – including genetic evaluation of 5,000 active sires – to more than 4,000 members and their commercial customers. The Limousin breed and its Lim-Flex® hybrid lead the beef industry in muscle-growth efficiency and ideally complement British breeds.