Rising feed costs give new impetus for increased efficiency
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
University of Idaho animal scientist Rod Hill has focused on feed efficiency in the cattle industry for years. But with the rising costs of feed, converting feed to high-quality beef has become an even bigger challenge.
Research has uncovered opportunities in that area for producers and cattle feeders, and much of it can be found in Hill's new book, "Feed Efficiency in the Beef Industry," published by Wiley-Blackwell this month.
Hill, a livestock physiologist, has spent much of his career conducting feed efficiency studies on cattle. His studies range from monitoring the animal as it gains weight all the way to the molecular level to understand how cattle grow and why there is so much animal-to-animal variation in feed efficiency.
With skyrocketing feed costs and extreme volatility in those markets, Hill wanted to pull together all the issues surrounding feed efficiency to give the industry helpful information, he said.
Cost of production varies among the different production systems utilized by the industry, but feed represents about 80 percent of the total cost of producing a beef carcass. Clearly any efficiency in that area is a benefit to the industry, he said.
There are a lot of natural biological variations in cattle. Technology now allows researchers the ability to collect and analyze data on individual intake and live weight gain, and that is leading to the discovery of opportunities in feed efficiency.
For example, two steers of similar weight and weight gain, can consume vastly different quantities of feed as much as a 35 percent difference.
"A 35 percent window is huge. We're trying to understand the underlying factors that contribute to that variation," he said.
But "one of the things we don't want to do is focus on a single trait. It's important to have balance," he said.
Feed efficiency is important but is only part of the big picture when it comes to sustainability and high quality beef. The right gain profile, fertility, ease of calving, temperament, marbling profile and tenderness of meat are also traits that need to be considered in breeding and selection, he said.
And there are multiple factors that contribute to this large variation in feed efficiency, ranging from the individual animal's metabolism, genetics, feed digestibility and others, he said.
"There were so many different factors and interactions that I just saw the need to put a book together that explored the complexities of all the different important production and quality traits that we need to think about when we think about efficiency," he said.
To accomplish that, he enlisted 33 experts at the university and worldwide to cover the spectrum on feed efficiency.
While the book is strong enough to be used as a textbook for senior animal science majors and graduate students, it also contains chapters aimed at producers, he said.
"With wide-ranging coverage from leading international researchers, Feed Efficiency will be a valuable resource for producers who wish to understand the complexities, challenges and opportunities to reduce their cost of production, for students studying the topic and for researchers and professionals working in the beef industry," the publisher's description states.