Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Update on the beef feed Efficiency Programme


In this blog, Natalie Cormack, Beef Feed Efficiency Programme Manager, 
introduces one of the new farms that recently joined the project and takes a look at what they are doing, as well as some of the preliminary results. 

Watson Swinbank is an arable and beef producer at Greystones Farm in North Yorkshire and is one of the four farms involved in the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme across Great Britain. The four-year Defra and AHDB-funded programme is partnering with Scottish government and SRUC to demonstrate how feed efficiency traits can be measured and selected for in beef cattle in a UK commercial environment, illustrating how the most efficient cattle can eat less than others but grow at the same rate. This will provide significant opportunities for beef producers to cut the cost of production; as well as the development of an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) that will enable on-going selection of more efficient cattle.




Greystones Farm has capacity to record more than 60 animals in each batch, which lasts for 93 days including an acclimatisation period of four weeks. By the end of 2018, Greystones will have collected feed intake data on 240 animals. Individual feed intake is recorded using special equipment imported from Alberta in Canada. Watson sources animals that meet a set of criteria to include Limousin-cross steers by a known sire of similar age group. Once off trial, Watson finishes the steers and the carcase information is also included in the genetic evaluation. While on trial the steers are weighed weekly, scanned at beginning and end, and DNA sampled. Watson also records the dry matter of the ration.

The first batch of 61 Limousin crossbred steers finished its data collection period in early spring. This batch contained calves from 10 different sires and they came from eight breeding herds across the north of England. The batch had an age span of 120 days and were no older than 14 months when they finished their trial period. The batch performed well while on test, averaging 1.25kg/hd/day, eating a forage-based ration formulated to be of similar quality across all four farms.

Preliminary results

Preliminary analysis of the first batch of data from Greystones Farm looks comparable with our earlier results. The graph below shows there is considerable variation between the sire groups in the batch in relation to both liveweight gain and intake. The two red-circled points on the graph show the difference in intake between two sire groups that grew at a similar rate over the trial period. The red-circled point on the right represents progeny from one sire that ate 8kg of dry matter per day per head to achieve a growth rate of 1.2 kg/day, while the point on the left represents a sire group that ate only 6.9kg dry matter per head per day to achieve the same growth rate. In general, sires with progeny that exhibit lower intakes with similar growth rates will be seen in the upper left quadrant of the graph.

 


As the Defra funded phase of the programme concludes in 2019, the project team are currently discussing options for progressing this work with industry stakeholders to extend the benefits of the investment and learning across the industry.

To find out more about the project, visit the research area of the AHDB Beef & Lamb website: http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/research/genetic-selection/genetic-selection-beef/beef-feed-efficiency-programme/ and keep an eye on the beef and lamb matters blog for Beef Feed Efficiency updates.