Jason Ahola: Feed efficiency research in cattle | TSLN.com

Jason Ahola: Feed efficiency research in cattle

Gayle Smith

With feed being the largest variable cost of a cow-calf operation, producers are constantly looking for ways to efficiently feed their herds. Dr. Jason Ahola, a professor of beef production systems at Colorado State University, spoke to producers about improving feed efficiency in mature beef cows during the Colorado Farm Show Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.

“Feed is the largest cost item in the profitability equation that a producer can control,” Ahola said. “The ability to reduce feed intake and feed costs without negatively affecting reproduction, growth, carcass performance, or meat quality is becoming a priority in beef cattle selection programs.

“In the past, feed efficiency testing has focused on beef cattle in the feedlot, and growing calf diets that are either forage or grain-based,” Ahola continued.

As the cost of feed increases, producers will need to develop more feed efficient cows if they hope to remain profitable in the future. “We don’t feed corn to cows,” Ahola said, “but hay prices generally mirror what corn prices are. One generally robs from the other. I anticipate hay to be significantly higher this year.”

Input costs in beef production are also rising at a higher rate than output costs, making it more difficult for cow-calf operations to stay profitable. “Input costs are rising at such a high rate that it is forcing 10,000 cow-calf operations out of business a year,” Ahola said. In fact, the number of cow-calf operations in the U.S. has decreased from one million to 750,000 since 1986.

When producers purchase a bull, the top traits they select for is calving ease and growth, Ahola said. “Producers tend to select for traits that are genetically-selected, and overlook traits like feed efficiency that aren’t as easily selected.”

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Researchers in the U.S. are just beginning to look at feed efficiency as a genetic predictor. The problem with research is at least 15 progeny are needed just to test one sire.

In Australia, researchers have been looking at feed efficiency as a genetic trait since the early 1990s. Since then, they have isolated the blood value IGF-1 to calculate feed intake EPDs, because based on research, it looked like the blood value was related to feed intake and feed efficiency. By 2010, Australia had more than 25,000 sires with feed intake EPDs, while the U.S. has none.

Ahola predicts with the development of GrowSafe technology out of Canada, more reliable research can be conducted on feed efficiency selection in the U.S. With the first feed intake technology, Calan Gates, everything had to be done by hand, which was very labor intensive, and the technology could only be used on six animals per pen.

With the new GrowSafe technology, research can be performed on hundreds of animals per pen. The technology in a GrowSafe head gate electronically scans an electronic ear tag. The feed bunk is on a scale and updated every second on how much feed is there.

“This technology will allow us to determine which animal ate how much and for how long,” Ahola said. With the new technology comes a high price tag. The GrowSafe system costs about $1,000 per head capacity. However, the system offers continuous monitoring, and can summarize how much feed every animal in a pen consumed.

Traditionally, feed efficiency was measured using a feed-to-gain ratio. The pounds of feed consumed was divided into the pounds of weight gain to determine the feed-to-gain ratio, or feed efficiency. The feed-to-gain ratio tends to favor genetically-larger cattle, and was correlated with growth rate or average daily gain, and mature cow size and weight. However, feed-to-gain ratios failed to account for body size, appetite, composition of gain and maturity pattern.

To address these issues, a new measure of efficiency called residual feed intake (RFI) has been developed. RFI is the difference between actual and predicted feed intake. It is reported in pounds and is moderately heritable. The predicted feed intake is based on rate of gain, mid-test body weight and composition of gain.

Using RFI, Ahola said producers can compare animals to determine which cattle can produce more pounds of gain based on the same feed consumption. “The residual feed intake allows us to compare what an animal actually ate versus what we predicted it would eat. Using RFI, we can get the computer to predict which animals are and are not growthy.”

In a comparison of two animals in one study, one calf consumed 31 pounds of feed each day, while the other consumed 22 pounds. At slaughter, both calves had gained 3.2 pounds a day, but the second calf utilized a lot less pounds of feed to get finish.

“We want to identify which animals gain the most with the least amount of feed,” Ahola said. By selecting for these cattle, performance can be maintained with less feed. “Some other advantages of this are reducing feed costs without negatively affecting growth to benefit the industry, and it could help the environment by reducing methane and manure because less feed is consumed,” he added.

A study at Colorado State University is determining a cow’s maintenance energy number for bulls as it relates to his daughters. Cow maintenance energy is a derived trait based on the cow’s body weight at weaning adjusted to a body condition score 5. The milk EPD also contributes about five percent to the score. According to Ahola, cow maintenance energy predicts the energy cost of a cow for maintenance. Some breed associations are developing their own forms of cow maintenance energy in attempt to show which sires will have more efficient offspring.

“The relationship between feedlot feed efficiency and mature cow feed efficiency is not well understood,” Ahola said. “But, cow-calf producers could benefit the most from improvements in feed efficiency among mature cows.”

With feed prices doubling, a five percent improvement in feed efficiency equates to a 20 percent improvement in average daily gain. The American Angus Association uses an $EN, which is the difference in dollars of energy saved (feed cost) per cow per year in future daughters of a sire. In the research Ahola has conducted comparing some Angus bulls, the smaller frame, easier fleshing bulls have proven to save producers more money in $EN versus big growthy cows with more expensive $EN.

“It is difficult to measure grazing of a cow in her life,” Ahola concluded. “As we use EPDs to select for feed efficiency, I wonder if we are selecting for feedlot efficiency. It is going to be a challenge to see how we develop a system everyone can use.”

With feed being the largest variable cost of a cow-calf operation, producers are constantly looking for ways to efficiently feed their herds. Dr. Jason Ahola, a professor of beef production systems at Colorado State University, spoke to producers about improving feed efficiency in mature beef cows during the Colorado Farm Show Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.

“Feed is the largest cost item in the profitability equation that a producer can control,” Ahola said. “The ability to reduce feed intake and feed costs without negatively affecting reproduction, growth, carcass performance, or meat quality is becoming a priority in beef cattle selection programs.

“In the past, feed efficiency testing has focused on beef cattle in the feedlot, and growing calf diets that are either forage or grain-based,” Ahola continued.

As the cost of feed increases, producers will need to develop more feed efficient cows if they hope to remain profitable in the future. “We don’t feed corn to cows,” Ahola said, “but hay prices generally mirror what corn prices are. One generally robs from the other. I anticipate hay to be significantly higher this year.”

Input costs in beef production are also rising at a higher rate than output costs, making it more difficult for cow-calf operations to stay profitable. “Input costs are rising at such a high rate that it is forcing 10,000 cow-calf operations out of business a year,” Ahola said. In fact, the number of cow-calf operations in the U.S. has decreased from one million to 750,000 since 1986.

When producers purchase a bull, the top traits they select for is calving ease and growth, Ahola said. “Producers tend to select for traits that are genetically-selected, and overlook traits like feed efficiency that aren’t as easily selected.”

Researchers in the U.S. are just beginning to look at feed efficiency as a genetic predictor. The problem with research is at least 15 progeny are needed just to test one sire.

In Australia, researchers have been looking at feed efficiency as a genetic trait since the early 1990s. Since then, they have isolated the blood value IGF-1 to calculate feed intake EPDs, because based on research, it looked like the blood value was related to feed intake and feed efficiency. By 2010, Australia had more than 25,000 sires with feed intake EPDs, while the U.S. has none.

Ahola predicts with the development of GrowSafe technology out of Canada, more reliable research can be conducted on feed efficiency selection in the U.S. With the first feed intake technology, Calan Gates, everything had to be done by hand, which was very labor intensive, and the technology could only be used on six animals per pen.

With the new GrowSafe technology, research can be performed on hundreds of animals per pen. The technology in a GrowSafe head gate electronically scans an electronic ear tag. The feed bunk is on a scale and updated every second on how much feed is there.

“This technology will allow us to determine which animal ate how much and for how long,” Ahola said. With the new technology comes a high price tag. The GrowSafe system costs about $1,000 per head capacity. However, the system offers continuous monitoring, and can summarize how much feed every animal in a pen consumed.

Traditionally, feed efficiency was measured using a feed-to-gain ratio. The pounds of feed consumed was divided into the pounds of weight gain to determine the feed-to-gain ratio, or feed efficiency. The feed-to-gain ratio tends to favor genetically-larger cattle, and was correlated with growth rate or average daily gain, and mature cow size and weight. However, feed-to-gain ratios failed to account for body size, appetite, composition of gain and maturity pattern.

To address these issues, a new measure of efficiency called residual feed intake (RFI) has been developed. RFI is the difference between actual and predicted feed intake. It is reported in pounds and is moderately heritable. The predicted feed intake is based on rate of gain, mid-test body weight and composition of gain.

Using RFI, Ahola said producers can compare animals to determine which cattle can produce more pounds of gain based on the same feed consumption. “The residual feed intake allows us to compare what an animal actually ate versus what we predicted it would eat. Using RFI, we can get the computer to predict which animals are and are not growthy.”

In a comparison of two animals in one study, one calf consumed 31 pounds of feed each day, while the other consumed 22 pounds. At slaughter, both calves had gained 3.2 pounds a day, but the second calf utilized a lot less pounds of feed to get finish.

“We want to identify which animals gain the most with the least amount of feed,” Ahola said. By selecting for these cattle, performance can be maintained with less feed. “Some other advantages of this are reducing feed costs without negatively affecting growth to benefit the industry, and it could help the environment by reducing methane and manure because less feed is consumed,” he added.

A study at Colorado State University is determining a cow’s maintenance energy number for bulls as it relates to his daughters. Cow maintenance energy is a derived trait based on the cow’s body weight at weaning adjusted to a body condition score 5. The milk EPD also contributes about five percent to the score. According to Ahola, cow maintenance energy predicts the energy cost of a cow for maintenance. Some breed associations are developing their own forms of cow maintenance energy in attempt to show which sires will have more efficient offspring.

“The relationship between feedlot feed efficiency and mature cow feed efficiency is not well understood,” Ahola said. “But, cow-calf producers could benefit the most from improvements in feed efficiency among mature cows.”

With feed prices doubling, a five percent improvement in feed efficiency equates to a 20 percent improvement in average daily gain. The American Angus Association uses an $EN, which is the difference in dollars of energy saved (feed cost) per cow per year in future daughters of a sire. In the research Ahola has conducted comparing some Angus bulls, the smaller frame, easier fleshing bulls have proven to save producers more money in $EN versus big growthy cows with more expensive $EN.

“It is difficult to measure grazing of a cow in her life,” Ahola concluded. “As we use EPDs to select for feed efficiency, I wonder if we are selecting for feedlot efficiency. It is going to be a challenge to see how we develop a system everyone can use.”

With feed being the largest variable cost of a cow-calf operation, producers are constantly looking for ways to efficiently feed their herds. Dr. Jason Ahola, a professor of beef production systems at Colorado State University, spoke to producers about improving feed efficiency in mature beef cows during the Colorado Farm Show Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.

“Feed is the largest cost item in the profitability equation that a producer can control,” Ahola said. “The ability to reduce feed intake and feed costs without negatively affecting reproduction, growth, carcass performance, or meat quality is becoming a priority in beef cattle selection programs.

“In the past, feed efficiency testing has focused on beef cattle in the feedlot, and growing calf diets that are either forage or grain-based,” Ahola continued.

As the cost of feed increases, producers will need to develop more feed efficient cows if they hope to remain profitable in the future. “We don’t feed corn to cows,” Ahola said, “but hay prices generally mirror what corn prices are. One generally robs from the other. I anticipate hay to be significantly higher this year.”

Input costs in beef production are also rising at a higher rate than output costs, making it more difficult for cow-calf operations to stay profitable. “Input costs are rising at such a high rate that it is forcing 10,000 cow-calf operations out of business a year,” Ahola said. In fact, the number of cow-calf operations in the U.S. has decreased from one million to 750,000 since 1986.

When producers purchase a bull, the top traits they select for is calving ease and growth, Ahola said. “Producers tend to select for traits that are genetically-selected, and overlook traits like feed efficiency that aren’t as easily selected.”

Researchers in the U.S. are just beginning to look at feed efficiency as a genetic predictor. The problem with research is at least 15 progeny are needed just to test one sire.

In Australia, researchers have been looking at feed efficiency as a genetic trait since the early 1990s. Since then, they have isolated the blood value IGF-1 to calculate feed intake EPDs, because based on research, it looked like the blood value was related to feed intake and feed efficiency. By 2010, Australia had more than 25,000 sires with feed intake EPDs, while the U.S. has none.

Ahola predicts with the development of GrowSafe technology out of Canada, more reliable research can be conducted on feed efficiency selection in the U.S. With the first feed intake technology, Calan Gates, everything had to be done by hand, which was very labor intensive, and the technology could only be used on six animals per pen.

With the new GrowSafe technology, research can be performed on hundreds of animals per pen. The technology in a GrowSafe head gate electronically scans an electronic ear tag. The feed bunk is on a scale and updated every second on how much feed is there.

“This technology will allow us to determine which animal ate how much and for how long,” Ahola said. With the new technology comes a high price tag. The GrowSafe system costs about $1,000 per head capacity. However, the system offers continuous monitoring, and can summarize how much feed every animal in a pen consumed.

Traditionally, feed efficiency was measured using a feed-to-gain ratio. The pounds of feed consumed was divided into the pounds of weight gain to determine the feed-to-gain ratio, or feed efficiency. The feed-to-gain ratio tends to favor genetically-larger cattle, and was correlated with growth rate or average daily gain, and mature cow size and weight. However, feed-to-gain ratios failed to account for body size, appetite, composition of gain and maturity pattern.

To address these issues, a new measure of efficiency called residual feed intake (RFI) has been developed. RFI is the difference between actual and predicted feed intake. It is reported in pounds and is moderately heritable. The predicted feed intake is based on rate of gain, mid-test body weight and composition of gain.

Using RFI, Ahola said producers can compare animals to determine which cattle can produce more pounds of gain based on the same feed consumption. “The residual feed intake allows us to compare what an animal actually ate versus what we predicted it would eat. Using RFI, we can get the computer to predict which animals are and are not growthy.”

In a comparison of two animals in one study, one calf consumed 31 pounds of feed each day, while the other consumed 22 pounds. At slaughter, both calves had gained 3.2 pounds a day, but the second calf utilized a lot less pounds of feed to get finish.

“We want to identify which animals gain the most with the least amount of feed,” Ahola said. By selecting for these cattle, performance can be maintained with less feed. “Some other advantages of this are reducing feed costs without negatively affecting growth to benefit the industry, and it could help the environment by reducing methane and manure because less feed is consumed,” he added.

A study at Colorado State University is determining a cow’s maintenance energy number for bulls as it relates to his daughters. Cow maintenance energy is a derived trait based on the cow’s body weight at weaning adjusted to a body condition score 5. The milk EPD also contributes about five percent to the score. According to Ahola, cow maintenance energy predicts the energy cost of a cow for maintenance. Some breed associations are developing their own forms of cow maintenance energy in attempt to show which sires will have more efficient offspring.

“The relationship between feedlot feed efficiency and mature cow feed efficiency is not well understood,” Ahola said. “But, cow-calf producers could benefit the most from improvements in feed efficiency among mature cows.”

With feed prices doubling, a five percent improvement in feed efficiency equates to a 20 percent improvement in average daily gain. The American Angus Association uses an $EN, which is the difference in dollars of energy saved (feed cost) per cow per year in future daughters of a sire. In the research Ahola has conducted comparing some Angus bulls, the smaller frame, easier fleshing bulls have proven to save producers more money in $EN versus big growthy cows with more expensive $EN.

“It is difficult to measure grazing of a cow in her life,” Ahola concluded. “As we use EPDs to select for feed efficiency, I wonder if we are selecting for feedlot efficiency. It is going to be a challenge to see how we develop a system everyone can use.”

With feed being the largest variable cost of a cow-calf operation, producers are constantly looking for ways to efficiently feed their herds. Dr. Jason Ahola, a professor of beef production systems at Colorado State University, spoke to producers about improving feed efficiency in mature beef cows during the Colorado Farm Show Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.

“Feed is the largest cost item in the profitability equation that a producer can control,” Ahola said. “The ability to reduce feed intake and feed costs without negatively affecting reproduction, growth, carcass performance, or meat quality is becoming a priority in beef cattle selection programs.

“In the past, feed efficiency testing has focused on beef cattle in the feedlot, and growing calf diets that are either forage or grain-based,” Ahola continued.

As the cost of feed increases, producers will need to develop more feed efficient cows if they hope to remain profitable in the future. “We don’t feed corn to cows,” Ahola said, “but hay prices generally mirror what corn prices are. One generally robs from the other. I anticipate hay to be significantly higher this year.”

Input costs in beef production are also rising at a higher rate than output costs, making it more difficult for cow-calf operations to stay profitable. “Input costs are rising at such a high rate that it is forcing 10,000 cow-calf operations out of business a year,” Ahola said. In fact, the number of cow-calf operations in the U.S. has decreased from one million to 750,000 since 1986.

When producers purchase a bull, the top traits they select for is calving ease and growth, Ahola said. “Producers tend to select for traits that are genetically-selected, and overlook traits like feed efficiency that aren’t as easily selected.”

Researchers in the U.S. are just beginning to look at feed efficiency as a genetic predictor. The problem with research is at least 15 progeny are needed just to test one sire.

In Australia, researchers have been looking at feed efficiency as a genetic trait since the early 1990s. Since then, they have isolated the blood value IGF-1 to calculate feed intake EPDs, because based on research, it looked like the blood value was related to feed intake and feed efficiency. By 2010, Australia had more than 25,000 sires with feed intake EPDs, while the U.S. has none.

Ahola predicts with the development of GrowSafe technology out of Canada, more reliable research can be conducted on feed efficiency selection in the U.S. With the first feed intake technology, Calan Gates, everything had to be done by hand, which was very labor intensive, and the technology could only be used on six animals per pen.

With the new GrowSafe technology, research can be performed on hundreds of animals per pen. The technology in a GrowSafe head gate electronically scans an electronic ear tag. The feed bunk is on a scale and updated every second on how much feed is there.

“This technology will allow us to determine which animal ate how much and for how long,” Ahola said. With the new technology comes a high price tag. The GrowSafe system costs about $1,000 per head capacity. However, the system offers continuous monitoring, and can summarize how much feed every animal in a pen consumed.

Traditionally, feed efficiency was measured using a feed-to-gain ratio. The pounds of feed consumed was divided into the pounds of weight gain to determine the feed-to-gain ratio, or feed efficiency. The feed-to-gain ratio tends to favor genetically-larger cattle, and was correlated with growth rate or average daily gain, and mature cow size and weight. However, feed-to-gain ratios failed to account for body size, appetite, composition of gain and maturity pattern.

To address these issues, a new measure of efficiency called residual feed intake (RFI) has been developed. RFI is the difference between actual and predicted feed intake. It is reported in pounds and is moderately heritable. The predicted feed intake is based on rate of gain, mid-test body weight and composition of gain.

Using RFI, Ahola said producers can compare animals to determine which cattle can produce more pounds of gain based on the same feed consumption. “The residual feed intake allows us to compare what an animal actually ate versus what we predicted it would eat. Using RFI, we can get the computer to predict which animals are and are not growthy.”

In a comparison of two animals in one study, one calf consumed 31 pounds of feed each day, while the other consumed 22 pounds. At slaughter, both calves had gained 3.2 pounds a day, but the second calf utilized a lot less pounds of feed to get finish.

“We want to identify which animals gain the most with the least amount of feed,” Ahola said. By selecting for these cattle, performance can be maintained with less feed. “Some other advantages of this are reducing feed costs without negatively affecting growth to benefit the industry, and it could help the environment by reducing methane and manure because less feed is consumed,” he added.

A study at Colorado State University is determining a cow’s maintenance energy number for bulls as it relates to his daughters. Cow maintenance energy is a derived trait based on the cow’s body weight at weaning adjusted to a body condition score 5. The milk EPD also contributes about five percent to the score. According to Ahola, cow maintenance energy predicts the energy cost of a cow for maintenance. Some breed associations are developing their own forms of cow maintenance energy in attempt to show which sires will have more efficient offspring.

“The relationship between feedlot feed efficiency and mature cow feed efficiency is not well understood,” Ahola said. “But, cow-calf producers could benefit the most from improvements in feed efficiency among mature cows.”

With feed prices doubling, a five percent improvement in feed efficiency equates to a 20 percent improvement in average daily gain. The American Angus Association uses an $EN, which is the difference in dollars of energy saved (feed cost) per cow per year in future daughters of a sire. In the research Ahola has conducted comparing some Angus bulls, the smaller frame, easier fleshing bulls have proven to save producers more money in $EN versus big growthy cows with more expensive $EN.

“It is difficult to measure grazing of a cow in her life,” Ahola concluded. “As we use EPDs to select for feed efficiency, I wonder if we are selecting for feedlot efficiency. It is going to be a challenge to see how we develop a system everyone can use.”

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