US Look Down Under Where Cattle Eat Less

AUSTRALIA - The rising cost of grain combined with the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are the driving factors behind America’s push to breed more feed-efficient cattle.
calendar icon 21 August 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

That’s the message from the Beef CRC’s Robert Herd who has just returned from the annual conference of the American Society of Animal Science in Indianapolis.

Dr Herd, Principal Research Scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) said the American feedlot industry in particular is keen to improve feed efficiency.

"Their industry is huge. But unlike Australia, they rely largely on corn"
Dr Herd, Principal Research Scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries

“US scientists and the US beef industry have watched with interest our research that has lead to trial breeding values for feed efficiency being developed for Australian cattle producers. They are now rapidly developing their own testing capacity to find feed efficient bulls,” said Dr Herd.

“Their industry is huge. But unlike Australia, they rely largely on corn supply which is being diverted into the production of bio-fuels. Lot feeders are under enormous pressure to reduce the cost of feeding. Improving the animal’s ability to convert food is one way of doing that.”

“The Americans are also looking at it as a way to reduce methane production. Even though the US hasn’t signed international treaties it is still keen to develop technology which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.”

Dr Herd said the Beef CRC was trying to identify the DNA markers associated with feed efficiency in cattle.

“It’s an expensive and time consuming process to record each animal’s feed intake and most bull breeders don’t do it. The industry would like a breeding value for their animals based on DNA rather than on actual measurement,” Dr Herd said.

But Dr Herd said scientists needed to determine whether selecting animals with genes for improved feed efficiency also affected other production traits.

That’s the focus of the CRCs “Maternal Productivity” project, being conducted in South and Western Australia. Early work indicates selecting cattle for improved feed efficiency can lead to improved efficiency in steers and help improve the productivity of cows.

“But this is based on only one experiment for cows and it’s nowhere near enough to convince industry, or even ourselves, that we should be pushing for improved feed efficiency without fully knowing what consequences it will have on the lifetime productivity of the cow herd,” Dr Herd said.

“We have to the ensure feed efficient cows still have a calf every year, produce adequate milk and can store sufficient fat reserves over a number of years and varying nutritional environments.”

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