16 Dec The Importance of Feed Efficiency
Winter feeding is one of the largest costs of cattle ranching. Animals need forage to survive and put on weight after the grazing season, and this has to be either grown by the rancher or purchased on the open market. In recent years rising crop prices have been putting a squeeze on the bottom line of many ranches, and managers are on the lookout for ways to lower feed costs without affecting animal fertility, health, and carcass condition.
Residual Feed Intake (RFI), or net feed efficiency, is a measurement of the difference between an animal’s actual intake of feed and its expected feed requirements for maintenance and growth. Basically, it’s difference between how much you expected a cow or calf to eat in order to maintain or increase its weight, and how much it did in fact eat. A high RFI means that the animal required more feed than expected, a negative RFI that it required less. Clearly, for a rancher trying to estimate his winter feeding costs and other expenses, its a vital statistic to know (Source: Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development)
You may be surprised to learn just how much of a difference to your bottom line a good RFI can mean. Recent studies by the University of Alberta and the Alberta government have shown that, on average, it costs $50 less over 112 days to feed an efficient (negative RFI) animal versus an inefficient (positive RFI) animal. For your average rancher feeding a few hundred cows those savings can multiply quickly (Source: Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development).
What You Can Do About RFI: You can improve the RFI of your herd through good breeding practices. Selecting a bull with a history of producing offspring with low or negative RFI is the most important step. Recent research in genomics has been able to isolate the genes that contribute to negative RFI, making it easier to find the bulls that reliably pass on the traits. When you’re sourcing your bull for breeding, ask for a bull with a proven track record, one backed both by parentage data and genomic testing (Source: BIF Conference 2006)
It’s Green (In More Than One Sense): Not only does improving your herds RFI help your bottom line, it’s also good for the environment. More efficient cattle need less grazing land and less winter feed, both of which are important issues for consumers who want to eat beef but want it to be produced as sustainably as possible. Not only individual consumers but also food companies are increasingly seeking more sustainable options for sourcing their beef, and improving your RFI will contribute to making your beef more attractive to both.