Feed Efficiency in Cattle

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $4,836.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Turtle Rock Angus
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Jeff Liston
Turtle Rock Cattle

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, genetics

    Proposal summary:


    Recent technology has opened up potential of finding animals who are better on feed conversion in a controlled feedlot situation. This can now be added to testing for gain which has been the standard for performance for the past 40 years. Electronic ID tags and computer weighed and monitored feed intake together with the time-tested gain measurements combine to find the differences between what one might think and what actually is the feed efficiency of tested animals. University and industry predictions place feed efficiency as a more important trait than gain in economic models. Now feed efficiency can start to be measured with hard data results from the recent technology.

    While feedlot gain is important, for beef cow herds and ranchers, their biggest cost is animal maintenance. While a feed efficient calf fed out saves cost for 5-7 months while being fed, finding pasture efficient females pay back dividends every day and every year of their life- 365 days per year for 8 years at even 20 cents per day savings means that cow, providing all else equal, was worth almost $600 more than an average cow in her lifetime. A herd with 50-100 head of cows is going to notice this type of savings in less feed used or in more cow units possible on the same ground. Additionally, and maybe even more important, it appears that choosing animals for feed efficiency does not mean loosing any other important trait. Many choices in breeding cattle means deciding if the gain from one change is worth the antagonistic loss which often occurs in some other area.

    Starting to measure pasture or grass gain ability and finding what correlation there may or may not be with efficiency in the feed lot should give insight into how quickly changes can occur in the breeding side of beef cattle production. Additionally, there is more emphasis being placed on genetic testing results by many breed organizations at this time. Our proposal also includes checking the grass and feedlot gain, and ultrasound against the Zoetis 50K testing and the Angus GMX (Genemax) genetic testing which CAB is promoting as a guide to culling decisions.

    If there is a strong correlation in the grass gain and the feedlot efficiency testing found, then stacking generations of feed efficient tested cattle for 3 or 4 generations may lock in traits so that not as much testing will be needed to make good choices on efficiency. Myths of the most efficient cattle having the easy fleshing look, or being smaller framed, or faster gaining are all proving to be wrong. Changes in genetic makeup are needed to keep raising cattle as a viable industry if land and/or feed costs continue to increase.

    We think that finding hard data correlations between the ages and phases of raising cattle is valuable information which we would like to have in our seedstock herd to offer buyers. Our proposal will measure grass/forage gain on 5-8 weaning calves and then find out how they do on feed efficiency testing. This information, added to ultrasound results and the genetic testing results may help identify what has merit in making choices and what does not. Not much progress in improving feed efficiency has been made in the past 40 years. Carcass weights are higher, but feed conversion around 6:1 and higher are still most common. Only through testing and using that information is significant progress in feed conversion going to be made.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    1. Test feed efficiency with genetics in the Angus breed in order to promote feed efficiency in future stock.
    2. Enable farmers to save money on animal feed without decrease in production by increasing feed efficiency.
    3. Reduce environmental footprint through using less feed.
    4. Share results via a newsletter, an online video presentation, and the extension office.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.