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Feed efficiency in beef systems

5th Jun 2017

Source: Mike Bridgen, Darlington and Stockton Times, 2nd June

Feed efficiency must become a major priority for UK beef producers if the industry is to compete in global markets in the post - Brexit era. 

The message was given by Richard Fuller, business development director of the Beef Improvement Group (BIG) speaking at the open day to mark the culmination of a successful five year research project to develop the first Net Feed Efficiency EBV in the UK.

He said: "We face uncertain times right across UK agriculture, with question marks over the future of farming support and the likelihood that commodity price volatility is with us for the long term. For beef producers, it is going to be essential to have tighter control of costs, and feed is far and away the biggest burden on most systems."

Mr Fuller said one of the most notable observations from the Net Feed Efficiency (NFE) project was the amount of variation between different animals in their use of feed for growth and maintenance.

He said: "We’ve recorded a 13 per cent difference in NFE between the top one-third and the bottom one-third of bulls over the period of the project.

"This means that the bulls in the top third are eating 1.8kg DM/day less feed than those in the bottom third, while achieving the same weight gain. For the bulls on test, this has typically resulted in a saving of £21/head over a 12-week trial period, indicating that the equivalent of up to £100 saving per cow/calf unit per year is possible.

"The new NFE trait has good heritability (37 per cent), so by selecting breeding cattle that are more efficient with a good NFE EBV, rapid genetic progress can be made, improving the prospects for any beef production system."

The project to develop the first NFE EBV has involved the testing of more than 1,200 Stabiliser bulls and finishing steers at a specially designed unit in East Yorkshire.

The research was funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, as part of a drive to improve sustainable protein production. It has been managed by the BIG with support from JSR Farms, Alltech/Keenan and SAC Consulting. All were present at the open day.

The new genetic indicator will apply to the Stabiliser, the UK’s fastest growing cattle breed. It will allow beef producers to adopt new breeding strategies to reduce feed costs whilst also improving their environmental credentials through lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Fuller said: "Feed efficiency is a major factor in beef business profitability, but it is only part of the story as we also need strong fertility and ultimately a high eating-quality carcase. These are all inherent strengths within the Stabiliser breed, which has been developed to make beef production more profitable and sustainable."

Work will continue beyond the end of the project, with the Stabiliser Cattle Company continuing to support the Net Feed Efficiency testing programme for each new generation of Stabiliser breeding cattle, ensuring accurate EBVs for NFE are available for breeders and customers to use. Other research and development work is planned, including a focus on carcase quality.

Source: Mike Bridgen, Darlington and Stockton Times, 2nd June