South Devon females rank favorably in MARC feed efficiency germplasm evaluation

Feed efficiency in beef cattle is now, more than ever, an economic concern for commercial cattlemen. Increasing feed costs and volatile markets can put a lot of strain on many cattle producers’ profit margins. With increased financial pressure comes the need for new ways to capture value. Selection for improved feed efficiency in crossbreeding systems is one way cattle producers can maximize production methods. Many breed organizations now publish some form of EPD relating to feed efficiency, but even those numbers don’t tell the whole story for commercial cattle producers. To have a better idea of the best way to select for feed efficiency, commercial cattlemen should understand how different breeds of cattle stack up against the competition.

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In the United States there are multiple breeds of cattle, each with a different strength and package of traits that can benefit a commercial cowherd. Among British breed cattle, the South Devon breed are standing out as one of the most feed efficient breeds of cattle. This statement is backed up by results from the Midland Bull Test, the Leachman Cattle of Colorado program and now from data by the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) is a livestock research institute located in Clay Center, Nebraska. Research is directed at improving efficiency of meat production while maintaining a high quality, desirable end-product for the American consumer. One of the goals at the MARC is to evaluate differences of prominent beef breeds for traits of economic interest. In a recent article published in the Journal of Animal Science from researchers at Kansas State University, breed differences for average daily gain, average daily feed intake and feed efficiency were investigated.

            The study looked at 18 breeds of cattle within the U.S. MARC germplasm evaluation program (GPE), which utilizes relevant sires within their respective breeds. From 2007 to 2012, Beefmaster, Braunvieh, Brahman, Brangus, Chiangus, Maine-Anjou, Salers, Santa Gertrudis, Shorthorn, South Devon and Tarentaise breeds were integrated into the Cycle VII of the GPE. The Cycle VII historically only included Angus, Red Angus, Hereford, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Simmental, and Limousin breeds of cattle. F1 progeny from all breeds were obtained and mated to produce 2-, 3-, and 4-breed crosses. From 2008 to 2012, feed intake data measured with an Insentec system and live weights were periodically gathered on steer and heifer calves from the crossbred population.

Feed efficiency is the combination of feed intake and rate of gain, where an animal that eats less and gains more is deemed more favorable. To understand the merit of feed efficiency from a selection standpoint, heritability estimates for average daily gain and feed intake were obtained and found to be moderately heritable in both steers and heifers. This means genetic progress for improved feed efficiency can be achieved through selection practices.

All 18 breeds were included in the analysis with Angus being set as the standard. When comparing all breeds, South Devon steers were found to eat less than Angus but also had less average daily gain. Interestingly however, South Devon heifers had much lower average daily feed intake, yet actually outgained Angus heifers. The management protocol of steers versus heifers for the study was different, as steers were fed an industry standard higher concentrate diet, while heifers were fed a higher roughage diet to represent females being managed as replacements. In a selection index where feed intake and average daily gain were weighted, South Devon females outranked all other 18 breeds of cattle for feed efficiency.

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The implications from this study identifies the South Devon breed may gain more favorably on diets higher in roughage compared to all other breeds. Grassfed Beef, and GAP cattle are not the only benefactors to a type of cattle that excel at feed conversion on grass. Mainstream cattle producers can incorporate South Devon influenced females into their operation to maximize stocking density and cow profitability.

With increased scrutiny on management practices and the need for sustainable livestock production, feed efficiency on the cow side is an important piece to consider. Using feed efficiency breed differences to influence bull selection can assist producers looking to maximize production systems without the added cost of having to collect feed intake data.

Lane GiessComment