Experts working to identify more feed efficient animals

Looking for savings | The rising cost of feeding has officials looking 
for genetic markers that could bring savings to producers

RED DEER — Cattle producers can save more than $40 per head per year in feed costs by choosing more feed efficient animals, says a beef cattle management specialist.

The growing cost of feed grain will make selecting cattle for feed efficiency an important tool for producers, John Basarab told producers during the Western Canadian Grazing Conference.

“We as a beef industry cannot ignore that,” said Basarab, a research scientist with the University of Alberta and a beef cattle management and genetics specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

“Inefficient animals eat for fun.”

Basarab has been researching feed efficiency since the 1990s, but it is only in recent years, as feed grain costs rise, that producers and industry associations have taken a closer look at selecting feed efficient cattle.

Jeff Hyatt, beef development co-ordinator with the Canadian Hereford Association, said the organization is testing 900 Hereford bulls over the next three years to identify the most feed efficient animals.

“We want to identify the most feed efficient animals within the breed,” said Hyatt.

The association then wants to develop a marker for the feed efficiency gene to help identify animals that have the ability to eat less and gain the same.

The bulls will be tested at Olds College in Olds, Alta., and Cattleland Feedyards in Strathmore, Alta., using the GrowSafe Systems, which can measure individual feed intake.

Hyatt said finding more efficient animals is key to keeping the industry profitable, particularly if producers can save $40 a head in feed when only a few years ago profit was $20 per head.

Basarab said feed efficiency is a moderately inheritable trait. Selecting for animals that eat less but gain the same weight seems to have no affect on growth rate, body size, calving ease, birth rate and weaning weight.

Feed costs for slaughter heifers and steers from efficient sires could be reduced by $16 a head over a 150-day finishing period compared to the offspring of inefficient sires. The same 3.7 percent cost saving could reduce feeding costs for efficient cows by $26 a head compared to inefficient cows, he added.

Improved feed efficiency will also help Canadian cattle producers compete with breeding programs around the world, which are also looking at feed efficiency.

“Over the years when I first started, very few breed associations did this; now they’re all doing this,” Basarab said.

“Seed stock producers have already incorporated this into their breeding program. All of the beef producing countries in the world are looking at it very seriously. All they’re figuring out is how to include it into a multi-trait selection program.”

The chicken, dairy and pork sectors have already developed animals with better feed efficiency, he added.

“They’ve blown our socks off.”

Basarab estimates a five percent increase in feed efficiency would mean $100 million in savings, even if it were adopted by only 30 percent of cattle producers.

He said rotational grazing, cross breeding, improved management and genetic selection have all improved efficiency in cattle. The next step is choosing cattle that eat less.

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