the Next Revolution in dairy cattle genetics

Feed conversion is a major economic factor in commercial poultry and pig production but hasn’t been utilized by the dairy industry despite estimates that feed costs represent up to 60 percent of production costs on North American farms. Global livestock genetics company STgenetics® realized the potential impact feed conversion could have on the profitability of dairy operations and the sustainability of the entire dairy industry, so it launched an intensive research project to develop a direct feed conversion index that can be reliably used by dairy farmers. The company invested significant financial and manpower resources to identify cattle that optimize growth and production on the least feed.

More than five years and several thousand females later the project produced some unexpected results: Feed conversion is not correlated with any other genetic trait or global genetic index, such as the Net Merit and GTPI. More importantly, the project also yielded the EcoFeed Index, the first and only direct index available in the dairy industry to record genetic gains for feed conversion.

In recent years, an indirect index of feed efficiency has been developed and published in the United States. This model of indirect estimation suggests that the level of production as well as the weight of the females is directly proportional to their feed consumption.

Research by STgenetics® found that feed conversion is not correlated with weight or even production. To date, only the use of bulls with designation can project real and direct genetic gains for feed conversion for the next generation. Feed efficient animals use fewer natural resources and are an integral part of an environmentally friendly and sustainable livestock operation.

Among the bulls identified as superior for feed conversion are CHARISMATIC, DELTA, RUBICON, DETOUR and MISSOURI. These sires earned EcoFeed designation because their daughters achieved superior performance in converting each unit of feed consumed into more production and development units than the breed average. Each EcoFeed designated sire has progeny that have been tested for feed conversion and, through their performance, has confirmed the sire’s ability to transmit superior feed conversion to his offspring.

The heritability of feed conversion has been estimated at 21 percent, which makes it possible for dairy producers to anticipate significant genetic gains for their next generation.

Research findings have identified extreme feed conversion transmission ability by sires that can result in daughters for which daily feed intake can vary by 13 pounds (as fed) for equivalent production and growth performance. In general, EcoFeed designated bulls are expected to produce daughters that will grow and produce on par with their peers while consuming 24 cents less feed per day. For a herd of 250 animals, this savings amounts to $21,900 annually.

EcoFeed is the next genetic revolution in the dairy industry and has the potential to continue the industry’s evolution that began with STgenetics’ breakthrough SexedULTRA semen sorting process and SexedULTRA 4M high fertility semen, the only sexed semen that achieves conception rates comparable to conventional semen. The EcoFeed Index and SexedULTRA 4M semen can increase producers' profit margins by maximizing production in an environmentally sustainable way.