EcoFeed® in Beef on Dairy Animals

An Index that is Good for Your Feed Bill and the Environment

Dairy producers have always contributed to the beef supply chain through cull cows from their dairy herds. Cull cows as a beef product have value, but dairy cow genetics are not selected to bring value to the beef supply chain. In recent years, dairy producers have created a new market for beef on dairy crossbred animals that have the potential to bring significant value to the beef supply chain depending on the genetics they incorporate in their breeding program. The goal of any beef on dairy breeding strategy should be to bring a high value, sought after product to the beef supply chain, so that the beef on dairy market can continue to flourish in the future and provide dairy farmers with additional revenue streams. One way to considerably increase the value of beef on dairy calves is to breed your dairy cows to high EcoFeed® beef on dairy sires which will increase the feed conversion efficiency of your beef on dairy calves and will result in higher net profits and reduced carbon footprint in the beef supply chain.

 Why is feed conversion efficiency important for the beef and dairy industries?

Increasing feed conversion efficiency in cattle is a twofold opportunity to increase your profitability and environmental sustainability by reducing the amount of feed required by animals. Whether you are feeding beef animals for slaughter or dairy animals to produce milk, feed represents one of the largest variable input costs in your operation. Based on the data we have collected, animals with high feed conversion efficiency consume 17% to 24% less feed than their inefficient counterparts. This means that within a single pen of animals it is common to find two animals with similar body size and level of production that have a 20% difference in their feed consumption. By isolating the genetic components that affect feed conversion efficiency, we have a large opportunity to save on feed costs and reduce GHG emissions by selecting animals that have high levels of performance but are consuming less feed.

Environmental sustainability in animal agriculture is of paramount importance as the demands on our natural resources increase. Tillable land is decreasing at a significant rate which affects land availability and cost for production of feeding and grazing. Drought has also impacted available water for crop irrigation and grazing. The agriculture industry will need to implement new strategies to increase our outputs to feed a growing population with less land and fewer resources. We know that selecting animals based on feed conversion efficiency can play an important role in your strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of your operation because more efficient animals will produce less methane, manure and carbon dioxide per unit of production. If our cattle consume less feed while maintaining the same or higher level of production, we will need less land to produce feed, less fertilizer and pesticide to grow feed, less water and energy to irrigate land for feed, and less fossil fuels for tractors and other farm equipment.

 EcoFeed® by STgenetics® is a direct index to measure feed conversion efficiency which lowers feed costs in favor of profitability and reduces GHG emissions which is favorable to the environment and consumers.

How do we define feed conversion efficiency?

STgenetics® EcoFeed® Index uses a measure of feed conversion efficiency known as residual feed intake or RFI. RFI measures the difference in actual feed intake compared to expected feed intake based on what is needed to support maintenance and the performance level of each animal. Efficient animals will therefore consume less feed than we would expect them to at any given level of performance and body size. This trait is an ideal trait for selection programs because it can be inherited, (heritability=0.24) so progress can be made from one generation to the next if the right sire is chosen. RFI is not impacted by body size, so small or large frame animals can be efficient or inefficient. Furthermore, animals with favorable RFI will not only consume less feed, but they will also produce less methane as RFI is positively correlated with GHG emissions.

 What data has been collected for the beef on dairy EcoFeed® program?

STgenetics® is committed to advancing research for feed conversion efficiency, so we have dedicated facilities for collecting feed intake and growth data from beef on dairy calves. Our Genetic Development Center (GDC) in Navasota, Texas can test over 4,000 beef on dairy progeny per year in a state-of-the-art facility comprised of pens with electronic feed intake systems capable of capturing individual-animal feed intake on 1,200 animals at a time. STgenetics® has a strategic focus on compiling the best individual animal data possible by first completing parentage identification through genomic testing and then measuring actual feed intake data of individual animals. Data is also gathered on individual animals at the carcass level when the animals are slaughtered at a processing facility. We are better able to isolate the genetic components contributing to elite beef on dairy animals by assembling verified data on a large group of individual beef on dairy animals.

What is EcoFeed® for beef on dairy and how can I use it in my beef on dairy strategy?

EcoFeed® for beef on dairy is a feed conversion efficiency index based on the phenotypic and genomic data collected from calves of Beef Add On™ sires. Our current Beef Add On™ sires have EcoFeed® scores ranging from 85 to 120 with the majority of sires having reliabilities above 70%. The ideal Beef Add On™ sire will have a high EcoFeed® score which indicates the calves from this sire will consume less feed than calves of low EcoFeed® sires without negatively affecting growth or performance. In our research, we have found that efficient beef on dairy calves consume 19% less feed per day than inefficient calves which is about 4.3 lbs of dry matter per day.

The net profit of a beef on dairy calf is largely driven by the amount of high-quality meat product that is sold and the feed cost required to raise the animal to harvest. For this reason, genetic selection for economically relevant traits need to be considered when selecting Beef Add On™ sires to use in your dairy herd. Such traits could include Average Daily Gain, Ribeye Area, Harvest Age, Carcass Value, and Hot Carcass Weight as these traits will drive profitability in terminal calves. Residual feed intake, the measurement used in the EcoFeed® index, is not related to other economically relevant traits that we select for in Beef Add On™ sires, so you can add EcoFeed® to your selection criteria to reduce feed cost of resulting calves while improving other traits that are important to your profitability. (Figure 2)

What is the impact of feed conversion efficiency and performance on profitability?

Feed represents the number one variable input cost to produce beef from beef on dairy programs. Therefore, one of the greatest opportunities to increase net profit is to identify animals who require less feed per unit of product. Based on research collected at the Genetic Development Center, animals with high feed conversion consumed on average 4 pounds less per day, or 1200 pounds less across a 300-day feeding period compared to their inefficient counterparts. At a ration cost of $0.12 per pound of dry matter, that equates to a feed cost savings of $144.00 for the animals with high feed conversion efficiencies with no impact on performance or days on feed (Figure 3).

When we considered performance or average daily gain, which impacts days on feed, in addition to feed conversion efficiency we found that the top 25% of animals for growth and feed conversion consumed 2 pounds less feed and gained 0.9 pounds more per day than the bottom 25% of animals. This equated to superior animals getting from 400 pounds to 1,350 pounds 94 days sooner with a total feed consumption of 2,610 pounds less than the calves with inferior performance and feed conversion. If we put a dollar value to that, animals with superior feed conversion and growth had a higher net profit of $346.10 because of the reduction in input costs during the feeding period (Figure 4).


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