Producing more pounds with less inputs is key

Webster defines efficiency as a “way to determine an effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with costs.” 

Most producers in the Ozarks are striving for efficiency, and one way this can be achieved is with feed. 

What is feed efficiency? According to the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma, in general, an animal that produces either greater body mass with the same feed intake or the same body mass with less feed intake would be considered more efficient than its contemporaries.

While this description makes feed efficiency sound like something that should be at the top of every producer’s priority list, the numbers from Noble drive it home.

While it is interesting to compare average feed efficiency of different species, we also know dramatic differences exist in feed efficiency among individual animals within a species. In fact, Basarab et al. (2003) found there was as much as an 8-pound difference in feed consumed per day for steers that gained similarly. In practical terms, this difference is very costly to the producer. This 8-pound difference in feed intake would amount to half a ton of feed ($150) in a 120-day feeding period.

For some producers, one way to improve feed efficiency might be to switch to processed grains, or mix them into the ration. According to the Beef Cattle Research Council, digestibility of grains like corn, barley and oats is improved when grains are processed. Processing methods such as steam flaking has been shown to improve feed efficiency versus dry rolling. By cracking the outer shell of the grain, rumen microbes are better able to utilize grain starch and minerals. Processing also allows grain to be mixed with supplements, and affects palatability and passage rates.

Another method for improving feed efficiency can be to reconsider the management of feed bunks, troughs, self-feeders, etc. Proper bunk management and feed delivery helps with maintaining consistent feed intake, whereas lackadaisical bunk management can create fluctuations in feed intake. Inconsistent feed intake can lead to digestive issues, loss of feed and reduced feed efficiency. 

According to Amy E. Radunz, University of Wisconsin Beef Cattle Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Science, feed consumption should be estimated on a daily basis and observations made each day that all cattle are eating. This can help identify fluctuations in intake, which otherwise would be hard to identify. Bunk management is defined as matching the amount of feed delivered to the amount of feed an animal can eat…good bunk management can be more of an art than a science. Principles of good bunk management can be learned, but it does require practice and experience. The goal of a finishing program is to provide consistent amounts of feed at consistent times. Cattle are creatures of habit and disruptions in their routine can lead to disruptions in feed intake. This can be used to a producer’s advantage in developing a bunk management protocol, therefore minimizing changes in their environment, reducing stress, and delivering feed consistently is critical.

If producers choose to utilize self-feeders, labor costs are often reduced, but cattle will typically have a higher cost of gain. In order to properly manage self-feeders for optimum feed efficiency, it is wise to follow some general guidelines, including: never allow the feeder go empty, provide four to six inches of feeder space per head, and add roughage or fiber at approximately 1 to 2 pounds per head per day. 

Utilizing growth promotants, such as implants, is a strategy that can improve feed efficiency. 

“To a great extent, animal growth is regulated by the pituitary gland and its secretions of growth hormone (somatotropin). Implants work by increasing (via the pituitary gland) growth hormone and insulin at the cellular level, which results in increased synthesis of muscle tissue and, frequently, reduced deposition of body fat. This causes a measurable increase in growth rate and improved feed efficiency,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, ruminant nutrition specialist with the University of Arkansas Extension, explained.

There are also feed-through growth promotants on the market, and consulting with the herd veterinarian can help producers make the best choice for their cattle on which product to use.

Keeping feed clean and unspoiled will help improve the herd’s feed efficiency, as will pest prevention of birds and rodents that can consume and contaminate feed. 

Consulting with livestock field specialists and nutritional experts at the local extension office can aid producers in creating the best feeding program possible for maximum feed efficiency. 


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