Beef farmers could achieve major savings on feed costs thanks to the development of a new estimated breeding value (EBV).
Through work funded by the Government, the Stabiliser Cattle Company has initiated a net feed efficiency (NFE) project in partnership with SAC Consulting. The project aims to identify feed efficient animals in the Stabiliser breed by developing an EBV.
Feed efficient animals will achieve the same growth rates and carcase traits while eating less feed than their contemporaries.
Providing specialist analysis for the project is SAC Consulting’s senior beef specialist Dr Jimmy Hyslop.
He said: “NFE is the only approach allowing the most efficient animals to be identified without adversely affecting carcase characteristics or growth rate.
“Feed conversion ratio [FCR] is commonly used as a measure of efficiency, but this is strongly correlated to mature cow weight.
“If we select for FCR, we will end up with bigger cows which is the last thing we want.”
Based at JSR Farms, East Yorkshire, the project involves accurately measuring the feed intake of Stabiliser bulls between 10 and 13 months old and Stabiliser finishing steers between 15 and 19 months old.
By the end of the project, data from more than 1,000 animals will be used to develop the EBV.
Dr Hyslop explained the impact NFE values could have on beef suckler and finisher units by allowing breeders to select animals which consume less feed but achieve the same output.
NFE is expressed as kg per dry matter intake (DMI) per day and was calculated from eight-week test periods. Preliminary analysis of data shows its huge potential.
Dr Hyslop said: “The lower the NFE value, the more efficient the animal is. Results have highlighted a 25 per cent difference between the most and least efficient bulls.
“The top third most efficient bulls [the blue group in the graph, right] ate 13 per cent less feed when compared to the third least efficient bulls [red group] at the same level of liveweight gain.
“For the same output and growth rate, the best bulls ate 0.89kg/DMI/day less than average and the worst ate 0.92kg more than average.”
The mean daily liveweight gain (DLWG) and fat depth between high and low NFE bulls was not significantly different, but the amount of feed these bulls consumed to achieve those levels of performance was different.
Most importantly, this resulted in a significant cost difference with the top third bulls costing £21/head less than the bottom third bulls for the same output, which shows a substantial cost saving.
Steers also showed the same stark and significant difference in NFE.
The project tested several batches of 80 Stabiliser steers and again the mean DLWG and fat depth were not statistically different, but the daily DM intake was.
Again divided into sections, the third with the lowest NFE consumed 12.1kg/DMI/day, while the highest third consumed 13.7kg/DMI/day.
Dr Hyslop said: “The cost difference between the best and worst thirds was £22/head for the eight-week period. This means over the course of a year on a finishing unit, there would be an extra margin of almost £100 per finishing place available by selecting cattle with a lower NFE.
“Cattle finishers will relate to this kind of graph immediately. When buying a batch of stores, about one-third of them do well and make money, another third will be average and the last third will not make money, even though they are all finished on the same unit.
“If farmers could buy cattle in the top third, they would generate more profit but probably pay a premium at auction. Who would not want to increase profitability of each finishing place on their unit by £100 per year?”
In terms of what this meant for suckler breeding systems, Dr Hyslop said breeding stock from the best NFE animals would reduce feed costs, since about 60-70 per cent of the cost of a suckler system is in the maintenance requirements of the cow and calf.
He was, however, quick to point out other important traits, such as fertility, calving ease and carcase merit, must also be considered when selecting breeding animals.
Meat quality was also tested and showed no evidence NFE had an influence on beef tenderness.
Dr Hyslop said: “NFE is a heritable trait, which means the industry has an opportunity to breed increasingly more efficient cattle. Although this study applies to Stabilisers, the same principles can be applied across all breeds in the beef industry.”