Study shows how selecting feed efficient cattle can cut costs

Selecting feed efficient cattle could save beef farmers 25p a head a day, according to results from the first phase of the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme.

The AHDB project measured the feed intake of 2,434 Limousin and Angus store cattle, to identify animals and sire groups that consumed less for the same growth rate.

Animals in the top 10% consumed 1.93kg of dry matter (DM) a head a day less than those in the bottom 10%. This equated to 25p a head a day feed saved.

In addition, the most efficient animals that ate less while performing at the same growth rate needed 1.3kg DM of forage less a head a day, and there was a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to the reduced feed intake.

See also: Stabilisers feed efficiency value could save £100 an animal

The project has defined a number of estimated breeding values (EBVs) for feed efficiency traits which will enable beef farmers that use Limousin cattle to select animals for improved feed efficiency.

It is hoped these EBVs, as well as genomic EBVs, will be available within the next three to six months. These will be the first feed efficiency EBVs for any UK beef breed to be calculated and compared with a UK population. 

About the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme

  • Major industry project that started in 2015
  • Led by the AHDB and the Scottish Rural University College
  • Jointly funded by Defra, AHDB, the Scottish government and ABP
  • Feed intake units have been installed on four commercial beef farms across the UK and one research unit
  • Open access feed bins weigh the feed available
  • The feed intake of individual animals in a pen (batches of up to 120) is captured automatically using EID tags

Currently, not enough Angus data has been collected to produce robust parameters for the creation of an EBV or genomic EBV for the Angus breed.

Discussions are in progress to establish a funding partnership to extend data collection for Angus, which will enable a feed efficiency EBV for Angus as well, AHDB said.

Huge benefits offered

Understanding the management and genetic drivers of feed intake offers huge benefits to the industry. Feed costs account for about 70% of variable costs in most beef enterprises, and reducing these can deliver a substantial increase in profit margins.

International research has demonstrated that selective breeding for cattle that eat less, improves feed conversion efficiency by 10–15%, which, in turn, reduces the cost of production by 10p-15p/kg daily liveweight gain (DLWG), for the same growth rate, with no negative impacts.

Since the trait is moderately heritable, the effect is transferred to the breeding herd, where a 10% reduction in maintenance requirements has been reported. 

Natalie Cormack, Beef Feed Efficiency Programme manager, said: “Reducing feed costs significantly, while maintaining other production parameters such as growth rate, is a game changer for the UK beef industry. We are now able to provide genetic selection information at a breeder level that can implement the reduction in feed costs across the industry. 

“Animals that eat less while maintaining performance will reduce their greenhouse gas production, as well as needing less ground to sustain them. The programme provides a solution to these two issues, which is impacting our industry.” 

Defra has recently confirmed funding for the second phase of the programme, which will extend feed intake measurements and also study how increased feed efficiency relates to meat quality.

An additional 1,500 cattle will be assessed for meat quality, and the results of this programme will be measured over the next three years.