Feed Efficiency Central

In November 2007, Eagle Pass Ranch invested in the future of their genetic program by installing a state of the art feeding system that accurately weighs and documents every mouthful of feed each individual animal consumes. This new technology will enable Eagle Pass to produce seedstock that will have a superior genetic makeup for feed efficiency.

Feed efficiency (or "FE") is one of the top economic factors in the profitability of cow calf producers as well as the feedlot sector. University research has estimated that there is a $50-75 per head difference in the cost to maintain or feed an individual animal each year. FE is a moderate to highly heritable trait, which means that selection of highly efficient bulls and females will most likely transmit to their progeny.

The focus at Eagle Pass Ranch is to initially identify superior animals for FE and through an aggressive artificial insemination and embryo transfer program make rapid progress in raising the overall efficiency of our entire Angus, Gelbvieh, and Balancer seedstock herds.

In doing this, we will keep the other economically relevant traits intact. These are traits that have made Eagle Pass genetics sought after by commercial cattleman nationwide; calving ease, weaning growth, moderate mature size, adequate milk, high fertility, and sound structure.

How FE Works

GrowSafe Feeding Systems of Canada is the manufacturer of the unit and a more complete description of the system can be seen on their web site at www.growsafe.com.

The system is comprised of feeding stations or "nodes" that are basically poly tubs sitting on load cells with stanchion bars that only allow one animal to eat out of a node at one time. There are fifteen of these nodes housed in a pole barn that is open on one side.

Each animal has an electronic (EID) tag in its ear and when the animal enters the node a sensor in the poly tub identifies the EID tag. Each time the animal takes a bite of feed the weight difference in the tub is transmitted to a computer that adds the feed weight to that animal’s daily intake total.

The total daily intake number is the most important; however, the system also tracks the number and size of bites an animal takes in a feeding event, which nodes the animal eats from, how long it eats, the time of day it eats, and the outside temperature when it eats.

The protocol for a feed efficiency test is set by the Beef Improvement Federation, a group comprised of university researchers, feedlot operators, cow-calf operators, and agri-businessmen. They have determined that the test needs to run for 84 days with the first 14 days being an acclimation period. An average of two consecutive daily weights at the beginning of the 70 day test and a similar weighing at the end of the test is used for the analysis. The animals are also weighed every two weeks to monitor performance during the test.

This animal weight data is then analyzed in conjunction with the feed intakes to get the feed to gain conversion. GrowSafe will run the data for us as well as University of Missouri. In addition to a feed conversion score, the analysts will give each animal a Residual Feed Intake (RFI) score. The difference in RFI scores is that each animal is given a benchmark feed intake that it should consume given his size, maturity, and gain rate. The amount the animal consumes over or under the benchmark determines their RFI score.

The Science

For years producers and in particular seedstock producers have made claims of superiority in feed efficiency without much science to back it up. Our philosophy at Eagle Pass is "You can't improve what you don't measure".

Research by Dr. Herd, Dr. Denny Crews and others document that selection for low RFI, measured post-weaning, will lead to a decrease in feed intake of 10% in young cows with no compromise in growth performance or increase in mature cow size. It will also increase weaned calf weight as a percent of dam's feed intake by 15%. That's profitability!

DNA Tests

Eagle Pass Ranch is worked with the Igenity (Merial) labs to help validate their DNA markers for feed efficiency. New DNA markers are being found as the research by these companies continue, but the markers still represent only a fraction of the total DNA spectrum.

Individual animal performance for FE, validated by a positive DNA score for FE is absolutely the best, most accurate measure. DNA testing for quality grade, yield grade, and tenderness continues also.

Looking Ahead

"We produce and sell genetics, not just bulls and heifers...much like a seed corn company."

The comparison of Eagle Pass Ranch to DeKalb or Pioneer is not that far-fetched. We spend a lot of time, effort and capital trying to breed superior genetics. If we can increase our customer's profitability by $50-100/head over our competitors it is similar to selling you seed corn that wins the test plot by 20 bushels/acre.

Eagle Pass has proven over 40 sire lines and 12 cow families for feed efficiency. We are now in the process of stacking feed efficiency on feed efficiency through an aggressive ET and AI program. We will continue to identify more sire lines and incorporate the seedstock with superior feed efficiency into our breeding program.