Calories and Cattle
Scientists have long been interested in finding the genetic basis for feed efficiency, with the aim of breeding more efficient animals. But the first step – accurately measuring how much cattle eat across different life stages and diet types – has been a missing piece. That may be changing due to research funded by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
“Grain intake in the feedlot is relatively easy to measure and the industry now has a substantial number of feed intake records. But forage intake while a cow is grazing is extremely difficult to measure. We need to get a handle on that to really capture feed efficiency for the entire beef production system,” says Dan Shike, associate professor of beef cattle nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois.
The concern is that intake regulation varies, depending on diet type. In other words, a cow can fill up on forages before meeting her basic nutritional requirements. The same cow being fed grain in a controlled setting like a feedlot will likely meet those requirements on less feed. However, feed intake evaluations are typically done in the feedlot, potentially misrepresenting the efficiency of the animal over her lifespan.