The East Yorkshire-based Beef Improvement Group (BIG) has been awarded a £1.2 million grant from the Technology Strategy Board, for a project designed to help beef producers drive down production costs.
Cattle unit at Wold farm
The BIG Net Feed Efficiency (NFE) Project is an exciting, innovative and industry-leading research and development initiative, based on measuring NFE in Stabiliser cattle. It aims to improve efficiency and reduce costs for Stabiliser breeders and their commercial farmer customers. The Stabiliser is a composite breed, made up of half native British breeds and half maternal Continental cattle breeds.
As well as improving production efficiency, the NFE Project will also look at options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its consortium partners include BIG, JSR, SAC and Keenan. Supermarket, Morrisons and abattoir, Woodheads are also contributing, by providing retail value and meat quality data on the progeny of sires and steers tested for NFE. The grant award follows the consortium’s successful application to the Technology Strategy Board’s Sustainable Protein Production competition for research and development funding.
BIG and JSR have established a commercial, ground-breaking central performance test facility at Wold Farm in Givendale, East Yorkshire, where the Project is based. It is equipped with world-leading GrowSafe technology, to measure individual animal feed intakes. The unit will house 80 animals for each test batch and it is planned to put through three batches each year.
SAC will process the feed intake and animal growth data generated by the system, to calculate an individual animal NFE value. SAC geneticists will then use the efficiency values to create genetic selection tools and, ultimately, the first Estimated Breeding Value for NFE produced in the UK. Keenan’s role in the project is to design and monitor rations using its TMR (Total Mixed Ration) PACE feed ration management system.
The first trial of 80 young breeding bulls began in January 2012 and will finish at the end of March. Semen will be collected from the most efficient bulls by the Paragon Veterinary Group, giving breeders the opportunity to introduce top feed efficient genetics into their herds at the earliest possible date.
Dr Jimmy Hyslop, SAC Beef Specialist, comments:
‘NFE is a biological measure of efficiency seeking to disentangle the underlying effects of improved metabolic efficiency from the apparent improvement in efficiency associated with animals simply getting bigger. The traditional Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) value is highly correlated with higher growth rates and bigger animals, so that better FCR figures do not necessarily mean real improvements in underlying biological feed efficiency or profitability.
‘The mathematical derivation of NFE from daily feed intake and live weight gain data identifies the underlying biological efficiency of the animal at a metabolic level. It operates independently of daily growth rate and mature body size. Using NFE rather than FCR as the measure of true biological efficiency, and basing selection procedures on this measure, will achieve the optimum rate of genetic improvement in the shortest time possible.’
Richard Fuller, BIG technical director comments:
‘We are delighted that this project is going ahead. Currently, the performance records that we collect measure outputs, but they are not linked to direct costs. By accurately measuring feed intake - which accounts for about 70% of our variable costs - plus live weight gain, we will be able to calculate the true cost per kilo gain and identify the most profitable individuals.
‘We will be looking for cattle that grow as fast as their contemporaries (or faster), but which eat less feed on a dry matter basis. There is a big difference in feed efficiency between individual animals within all breeds and it is a moderately heritable trait. Therefore, it will be possible to select genetically superior bulls, cows, heifers and steers.
‘Work in this field is now well under way in North America, where extensive trial data indicates that by selecting superior feed efficient animals, savings in feed and associated overhead costs of £80 to £100 per cow/calf unit per year can be achieved.’
Mr Fuller adds: ‘I am confident that the results from this project will demonstrate to the wider beef industry the huge impact that selecting for improved NFE can have on reducing production costs, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.’
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