dona funk

University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Dona Funk says Residual Feed Intake research will help beef producers select genetically superior seedstock.

This time of year, it sure seems like those ol’ cows eat a lot. Driving from pasture to pasture with bale after bale and cubes galore, it would be perfectly understandable for a cow man to day-dream about cattle that eat less and gain the same.

According to work by University of Missouri researchers and others, those cattle are out there—if you can just find them.

Speaking to cattlemen at the KOMA Cattle Conference at Joplin Stockyards last week, MU Extension Livestock Specialist Dona Funk reported on a study underway at the University of Missouri SW Center which is identifying cattle capable of performing on less feed.

Residual Feed Intake (RFI), Funk explained, is the difference between actual feed intake and expected the feed requirement for maintenance and weight gain of a beef animal. MU researchers are using that measure to identify the genetic edge some cattle have.

The study involves two groups of Angus-Simmental heifers of similar type and background. The benchmark work at the University of Missouri, which utilized radio frequency eartags and a computerized feeding system, found a dramatic difference in RFI. Funk pointed out two groups within the herd which had the same daily gain (3.2 lbs. per day) but one group consumed 10 percent more feed than expected while the other ate 10 percent less than expected.

With current feed grain price levels, Funk pointed out, that would add up to about a $1400 advantage per year in feed input savings for an average Missouri cow herd of 35 head.

The cattle in the trial at the Southwest Center will be bred to be fall calvers. Efficient heifers will be bred to efficient bulls and inefficient heifers will be bred to inefficient bulls. All offspring will be either retained or fed out and their RFI will be measured to track heritability. Ultimately, the scientists want to find a genetic marker for RFI so beef producers will be able to better use it as a genetic selection tool.

RFI will continue to be measured to determine if the trait for better feed efficiency holds true in terms of forage consumption and forage gains. To make that research as “real world” as possible, pastures at the Southwest Center were seeded to endophyte-infected K-31 fescue.

Running cows that more efficiently utilize forage would also give producers the ability to run more cow/calf units in a given pasture, Funk pointed out.

She told the cattlemen that there are more ramifications to be explored such as whether or not those highly efficient animals have a greater mineral requirement.

Interest in RFI is growing in the U.S. but it has been more widely used in Australia and Canada, Funk noted. In the U.S., she said, more attention has been paid to feed:gain. The advantage to RFI is that it is measured independent of growth and maturity and should be a superior barometer of feed utilization because it’s based on energy intake and energy requirements

The ability to identify cattle which can gain fast on less feed is a tool beef producers will be more than eager to use as they watch feed input costs continue to grow, Funk concluded.

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