See our slideshow after the main article.Feed Efficiency: A Big Buzz in the Beef Industry Today Skip down to the slideshow

By Jennifer Showalter, The Mid-Atlantic Farm Chronicle

Louisa, VA – Beef cattle producers are continuously looking for ways to cut their costs of production, and feed costs are typically a considerable proportion of the entire range of expenses involved with running a beef cattle operation. By genetically selecting animals that perform better on less amounts of feed, producers can breed for cattle that actually require less feed to maintain a desired body condition or to reach an ideal market weight.

Charles A. Rosson, of Quaker Hill Farm in Louisa, VA, just recently took the next step in advancing the family’s purebred Angus operation. The Rossons are well-known in the Angus business across the country and try to keep their program updated to meet the demands of their markets. With the increase in an attention on feed efficiency, the Rossons recently decided to install an American Calan System in one of their barns. This system allows them to test the residual feed intake (RFI) efficiency or in other words the actual feed intake minus the expected feed intake of individual animals.

According to Rosson, “RFI is more than feed efficiency; in a nutshell it is the efficiency of the animal on a biological and metabolic level and how they deviate from the animal’s expected performance and feed conversion rate. Research shows if you select for feed efficiency alone that you will increase mature body weight and frame size. However if you use the RFI component for your selection tool you can select for a highly efficient animal without increasing mature body weight. We want to produce moderate framed, easy fleshing, thick cattle that work well on fescue.” Quaker Hill Farm is one of two private farms in the country that has incorporated this system into their operation.

There are currently two pens of 12 bulls on test at Quaker Hill Farm. Each bull has a computerized chip around his neck that matches up with a sensor on one specific feeding door. This allows the animal to unlock the feed door for his feeding space only. The American Calan System provides the Rossons with a way to accurately measure how much grain and hay each bull eats during the trial period. The bulls are currently eating around 250 pounds of grain a week and about 1 pound of hay each day. The grain consists of cotton seed hulls, soy hulls, barley, oats, rolled corn, and protein pellets. Feed intake data is collected daily and recorded once a week during the 70 day trial period. The bulls are given two weeks before the test starts to learn where their feeding stall is and to adapt to the environment. The bulls are weighed every two weeks, so that a growth curve can be plotted. At the end of the trial, the bulls will be ultrasounded for carcass data. Charles remarked, “From this we calculate Average Daily Gain, Feed Efficiency, and RFI. We can also monitor eating patterns and feeding behaviors on the bulls. One added benefit is the bulls are extremely tame and docile because of the constant handling and hand feeding.”

The Rossons plan to run another group of 24 heifers through the system after these bulls finish up. The 24 bulls that are currently on test will be sold on December 15, 2007, at Quaker Hill Farm along with an additional 25 yearling and coming 2-year-old Angus bulls. There will be three coming two-year-old Polled Hereford bulls and 7 Black SimAngus and Gelbievh bulls sold. The RFI for the bulls that are on test will be available for buyers to help make decisions that will benefit their herd and the beef industry as a whole.

“I think customers will have a new choice to consider when purchasing bulls. We are also going to offer a bull leasing/rental program on the bulls if a farmer would rather just have the bull for a 60 to 90 breeding season. We also plan to have financing available to make every bull affordable. We want everyone to have access to cutting edge genetics in a plan that fits their farm budget,” said Rosson. He then added, “We hope to improve the beef industry in Virginia by providing proven, documented feed efficiency tested cattle that have the EPDs and genetics the industry demands.”

The Rossons plan to test four groups of cattle, or 96 head, each year and increase the number of tests they perform on the cattle to help better guide them in their breeding decisions.

“I strongly believe feed efficiency is a vitally important economic trait. It is important in the feedlot by lowering feed expenses. However, those same genes selected for feed conversion also effect the conversion and metabolic efficiency of your cow herd. Having cows that can maintain themselves on less hay in the winter and less pasture during the grazing season will allow more cow/calf units per acre. Supplemental feeding is one of the largest costs a cow/calf operator faces. If we can reduce feed costs by increasing metabolic efficiency every segment of the beef industry wins. Cattle that have a better feed efficiency and desirable RFI (residual feed intake) are more friendly toward the environment, as they produce 9 to 15% less methane gas and 10-12% less manure,” said Rosson.

According to Rosson, it is not economical for every producer to install an American Calan System, but feed efficiency is something every seedstock producer needs to consider. The beef industry continues to make improvements, but must strive to offset all the variety of pressures that it faces.

Photo of one of the bulls in the feedlot.
Another photo of a bull in the program.
Hand feeding hay in separate food bins.
The cattle lined up in the feedlot - eating out of their own partitioned food bins.
A wooden 'fence' built to separate out one animal per food bin.
Slightly closer view of the 'fence' that keeps them separated while feeding.
Even closer view of the 'fence' that has been built.
A view from the animal's perspective. Shows the feed in the container.
Another photo of the animals eating.
A view from the handler's perspective. The bins are open on this side, easy to fill with feed. A green contraption works as a door to keep the cattle from putting their heads in the 'fence' before the bins are completely filled.
A view from the handler's perspective, showing some cattle eating.
A perspective shot, showing the cattle on the right, eating, and someone walking down the left, monitoring the animals.
A photo of some of the animals in the program.
A view of the outside area the cattle are free to roam.
A low, close-up shot of the food bins from another angle.
A photo of three men working in the cattle pen.
An employee? filling the feeders.
Another shot of the feeders.
An employee? demonstrates how the gate on the feeders work.
The front view, showing more detail on the gates of the feeders.
A shot of the feeders at an angle, to the right. On the left, neatly stacked bags of feed.
Another low perspective shot of the feed bins.
A photo showing the construction of the feed bins. The skeleton is built with concrete and a plywood gate.
Photo of some of the bulls milling about outside.