Visitors heard how new technology is helping to assess the performance of individual beef cattle at an open day held at Wold Farm near York on Tuesday (12 June).
Measuring precise feed intakes and comparing the data against growth rates provides valuable information for use when selecting the best bulls to breed from, explained Richard Fuller. He is the project manager for the Beef Improvement Group’s Net Feed Efficiency (NFE) project, which has received a £1.2 million grant from the Technology Strategy Board, to help beef producers reduce their production costs.
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 improvements in underlying biological feed efficiency or profitability. By contrast, NFE is a biological measure of efficiency; it separates the underlying effects of improved metabolic efficiency from the apparent improvement in efficiency associated with animals simply getting bigger.
The first batch of more than 80 bulls has already completed the 60-day testing period, Mr Fuller told delegates. The animals have been selected from herds of Stabiliser cattle, which are a composite breed made up of half British native breeds and half maternal Continental beef breeds. The trial technology uses electronic ear tags to identify the precise daily feed intake of individual animals.
“The first results have highlighted a difference of around 25% between the most efficient bull and the least efficient,” said Mr Fuller. “This is equivalent to a £100 difference in feed costs for the same level of live weight gain, if taken over a 210 day finishing period.
The animals have been selected from herds of Stabiliser cattle“As feed inputs account for about 70% of the variable costs associated with beef production, greater accuracy linked to selection procedures could offer producers considerable savings, by allowing them to pick out the most profitable animals for breeding.”
The trial also revealed a difference of 12% between the top 1/3 most efficient bulls and the bottom 1/3 least efficient bulls, he added.
“This is equivalent to a £48 difference in feed costs for the same gain, in favour of the top 1/3 over a 210 day finishing period. A similar distribution of performance is expected when future batches of animals are tested. This is a major step forward in identifying the cattle which are the most profitable to a farm business.”
Future plans include testing steers and heifers to establish the genetic links in the Stabiliser breed for NFE, said Mr Fuller. However he believed the initial focus should remain on the bulls, as they are more important in terms of their genetic contribution towards breed improvement.
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