Grant for Beef Improvement Group could help producers drive down costs

A beef project focussing on feed efficiency has been awarded a £1.2million grant from the Technology Strategy Board.

The Beef Improvement Group (BIG) Net Feed Efficiency (NFE) Project is designed to help beef producers drive down production costs. As well as improving efficiency the project will also look at options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

BIG and JSR, who are one of a number of consortium partners, have established a commercial, central performance farm facility at Wold Farm in Givendale, East Yorkshire where the project is based.

It is equipped with technology to measure individual animal feed intakes. The unit will house 80 animals for each test batch and it is planned to put through three batches each year.

SAC will process the feed intake and animal growth data generated by the system, to calculate an individual animal NFE value. Geneticists will then use the efficiency values to create genetic selection tools and, ultimately, the first Estimated Breeding Value for NFE produced in the UK.

The first trial with Stabiliser cattle began this month and will finish at the end of March. Semen will be collected from the most efficient bulls, giving breeders the opportunity to introduce top feed efficient genetics into their herds at the earliest possible date.

Commenting on the project SAC beef specialist, Jimmy Hyslop said: “NFE is a biological measure of efficiency seeking to disentangle the underlying effects of improved metabolic efficiency from the apparent improvement in efficiency associated with animals simply getting bigger.

“The traditional Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) value is highly correlated with higher growth rates and bigger animals, so that better FCR figures do not necessarily mean real improvements in underlying biological feed efficiency or profitability.

‘The mathematical derivation of NFE from daily feed intake and live weight gain data identifies the underlying biological efficiency of the animal at a metabolic level. It operates independently of daily growth rate and mature body size. Using NFE rather than FCR as the measure of true biological efficiency, and basing selection procedures on this measure, will achieve the optimum rate of genetic improvement in the shortest time possible.’

Richard Fuller, BIG technical director added: “We will be looking for cattle that grow as fast as their contemporaries (or faster), but which eat less feed on a dry matter basis. There is a big difference in feed efficiency between individual animals within all breeds and it is a moderately heritable trait. Therefore, it will be possible to select genetically superior bulls, cows, heifers and steers.

“Work in this field is now well under way in North America, where extensive trial data indicates that by selecting superior feed efficient animals, savings in feed and associated overhead costs of £80 to £100 per cow/calf unit per year can be achieved.”

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