High feed cost, whether it be concentrates or roughages, throughout the United States have been a paramount concern to most beef producers the past five years. Feed efficiency and its importance relative to profitability in both the cow-calf phase and feedlot industry are of high priority to most producers when evaluating breakevens and net returns. Limousin cattle have the ability to accomplish this at both levels of the production chain. Limousin are being used more frequently in commercial operations that require cattle to be easy keepers with lower feed intake requirements at the cow-calf level. Feedyards are beginning to integrate hybrid Lim-FlexÂ® cattle into programs looking for higher average daily gains with lower dry matter conversions that result in lower cost of gains.
The efficiency of moderate-sized Limousin-influenced females in a cowherd that has stayability and longevity in combination with calving-ease attributes is a valuable commodity in todayâ€™s beef industry. Her highest value may come in the form of her feed efficiency advantages. Cattleman have learned over the past 10 years that frame does not increase weight. Cattle that are moderate-framed and possess adequate rib and capacity, are those that are easier fleshing and maintain better conversion rates in the long run. These traits are typically passed on to their progeny, which translates into higher average daily gains and better dry matter conversion. The bonus effect is these types of cattle tend to have increased advantages when it comes to quality grade.
One measure of feed efficiency is residual feed intake or (RFI). It is the difference between actual and expected feed intakes and represents the net value (if any) that remains after an animal meets it requirements for maintenance and growth. When cattle consume less feed than expected, they have a negative RFI value, which indicates better than average feed efficiency. RFI as a measurement of feed efficiency is valuable to a commercial cow-calf man looking to lower his feed intake and decrease production cost. If RFI is used for selecting cattle that consume less, it is only half of the equation when it comes to profitability.
Superior average daily gains are essential when it comes to cattle that are geared toward commercial production in a feedlot environment. Many feedyard managers know this from years of experience when looking through their yard sheets that report consumption levels along with per head, per day cost. Cattle that excel in terms of their dry matter intake are usually doing something with it. Most of the bigger eaters typically are converting their intake to convertible pounds of meat to generate lower cost of gains. One of the biggest concerns I had managing feedyards during the past 25 years were cattle that didnâ€™t have adequate intakes. While these cattle had lower per head, per day cost when they were weighed out, they typically disappointed you on their pay weight and generated the poorest and highest closeouts.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota from the fall of 2009 to spring of 2010, examined the Residual Feed Intake (RFI) of 24 Limousin steers to that of 23 Angus and Simmental influenced steers. The 174-day test showed the Limousin steers had a dry matter intake of 20.4/day with an average daily gain of 4.07 lbs. and an RFI of -0.822. Compare that to the dry matter intake of 21.0 lbs. per day, average daily gain of 3.94 lbs. and an RFI of 0.870 for the commercial composite of predominantly Angus and Simmental-influenced steers.
These results led to the Limousin cattle having a $3.45 per cwt. advantage in terms of cost of gain or 6.4 percent. Because of their better dry matter conversion, this particular set of Limousin were able to break the rule of thumb when it comes to intake.
Since Limousin typically excel in terms of their muscling advantages and have less bone mass, they are in a unique position in todayâ€™s beef industry given the high cost of feedstuffs. These traits tend to typically translate into higher dressing percentages and pounds of saleable product that also adds to the bottom line of profitability. Given the fact that nearly half the fed cattle sold in todayâ€™s markets are now marketed on a grid in some form or fashion, live-weight evaluations do not necessarily identify animals that are the most biologically and economically efficient.
For cattle sold â€œin-the-beef,â€ carcass gain efficiency has a larger impact on profitability than live-weight gain efficiency does because it represents the difference in dressing percentage. In cases where cattle are sold on grids that determine dollar value by carcass weight, quality and yield grades, with the absence of â€œout cattle,â€ the beef industry arguably needs a new standard measure for feed efficiency. With the exception of the initial purchase price, the most economically efficient animals might be those that return the most carcass and retail value per unit input.
One misconception of RFI and feed efficiency is that these values alone do not always translate to profitability. A rank of cattle by RFI in conjunction with average daily gain and dry matter conversion rates will most likely lead to a more profitable selection tool. Given the price of todayâ€™s feeder cattle, additional pounds of product sold will more than pay for the additional feed intake as long as it is converted efficiently. Limousin-influenced feeder cattle can do this given their advantages in muscling and cutability.
Feedyard managers and owners of Limousin finished cattle can attest to the advantages of feed efficiency inherent to Limousin-influenced feeder cattle. Their advantage in dry matter feed conversion are a result of lower levels of feed consumption combined with higher levels of dressed carcass weight and the resulting yield at the packing house and retail case. In simpler terms, itâ€™s not just how much feed is consumed, its how efficiently that feed converts to pounds of quality red meat.
Selection for feed efficiency is not trivial. When selecting for it, both inputs and outputs in the production system are important to evaluate. Measuring feed efficiency by evaluating feed intake and economically important outputs is the most accurate way to quantify feed efficiency. If every animal finished in the United States were to increase their dry matter conversion by 0.5 pounds, it is estimated that cattle feeders alone could save nearly $700 million per year on feed.
With feed efficiency being difficult to collect for large numbers of animals, work is underway to identify variations in an animalâ€™s DNA associated with feed efficiency and feed intake. Limousin breeders will be on the forefront of this technology with the genomic-enhanced EPDs soon to come to the breed. Identification of genes with a large impact on feed efficiency will be a valuable and cost effective method for selecting cattle with improved efficiency. This should lead to more profitability for all sectors of the beef industry in the near future.