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Livestock

Efficiency serves as single trait to enhance selection decisions

As the buzz behind residual feed intake (RFI) and other measures for efficiency grows, UW Extension Livestock Specialist Scott Lake cautions producers to utilize efficiency measures as one tool to identify bulls for an operation.

Feed efficiency misconceptions, Lake says, could result in producers making decisions that don’t have their intended impacts.

Profitability and efficiency

“There is a misperception that because an animal is more feed efficient, it is more profitable,” Lake says. “That could be true, but it isn’t necessarily always true.”

Profitability, adds Lake, is multi-faceted and includes both input and outputs of a system.

“Feed efficiency only affects one side of the profitability equation,” he adds.

Additionally, the data for feed efficiency allows producers to select for animals that produce at a certain level but consume less. However, it could also select an animal that consumes less but does not produce at the same level.

Rankings and selection

Lake additionally notes that it is important to consider a wide array of factors when selecting bulls. 

“We recommend to treat feed efficiency like any other trait,” he explains. “In any test we do, Steve Paisley and I rank the bulls on average daily gain, a feed-to-gain ratio and, because we have a GrowSafe system, we use RFI – a true indicator of feed efficiency.”

He continues, “We look for the animals that float to the top in each category. In my mind, those are the ones that producers want.”

Combining multiple efficiency measures, as well as analyzing other traits, is the key, Lake emphasizes.

“RFI is a buzzword in the industry,” Lake says. “Feed efficiency is important, but we have to treat it like any other trait and put it in our selection decision. We don’t want to sacrifice maternal traits, growth or structural soundness in selections.”

Efficiency importance

“I think that a lot of producers don’t understand RFI and efficiency,” Lake comments.

UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley adds, “We have traditionally selected for performance, and RFI testing shows that performance and efficiency aren’t the same thing. We haven’t selected for efficiency in the past.”

Paisley further continues that producers are beginning to see connections between RFI and other traits.

Relationships

“Although we have been testing for RFI, we are getting a better feel now for the relationship between RFI and other traits and how to use RFI,” Paisley says. “What we are interested in long-term is how continually selecting for efficiency long term affects things like reproductive traits.”

He continues that selecting for efficiency, however, inadvertently selects for other traits. 

“If we look strictly at feed efficiency, there is a tendency for larger animals to be feed efficient,” Paisley says. “We want to remove frame size from the equation. RFI can help us to that for single-trait selections.”

Genetic link

Researchers are also working on establishing genetic markers to correlate with efficiency.

“We are moving toward developing new relationships between markers and efficiency,” Paisley explains. “Seedstock producers using DNA tests will get information back on efficiency. That method is a cheaper way to look at efficiency longer term.”

On the other side, utilizing RFI and testing bulls is also available, but the method is much less cost effective. 

“For RFI, we have to have bulls on test for 90 days, and there are costs, like feed and management, associated with that,” Paisley says. “In many cases, there is also limited space in testing facilities.”

“We need to continue to develop the relationship between RFI and marker-assisted genetic selection,” he says.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..