Useful Information

Feed Efficiency…Sell more Pounds and Buy less Feed!

by Christine Mushrush | Published January 29, 2022

For years we have been measuring gain without any knowledge of what those gains cost on an individual animal basis.  Cattle feeders have told us for years that feed conversion is one of their major profit drivers. They knew how many cattle were in a pen, how much feed that pen was eating, and how much weight that pen was gaining.  They could tell there were significant differences in the profitability of one pen vs. another  based on feed conversion.  And, we know that those differences often translated into hundreds of dollars of variation in animal value.  If there was that much variation between pens, then it stood to reason there’d be significant variation within the pens, even if every animal came from the same ranch of origin.  Furthermore, because different sire lines compared very differently in terms of expected progeny differences for Gain, we could assume they might differ for intake as well.  Since we already have gain, if we could get our hands around intake, we could determine individual animal differences in feed efficiency, and build genetic predictions that would rank cattle just like we’ve done for Gain, Quality Grade, Carcass Weight and Yield Grade.  Feed Efficiency impacts the value of our customers’ calves as much as any of these traits so if we can identify sires that excel for that trait, we can help make our customers’ calves worth more to the feeders that are buying them. 

Feed Efficiency is expressed in: Pounds of Feed (on a dry matter basis) per Pound of Gain, or F:G. 

The formula would look like this:  Feed Conversion (F:G) = DMI/ADG

  • Where DMI = Daily Dry Matter Intake
  • And ADG = Average Daily Gain.

If a steer consumes 20 pounds of finished ration (dry basis) per day and gains 4 lbs per day…

  • F:G = 20/4 = 5 lbs. of dry ration consumed per pound of gain.

To provide some context to the importance of this trait, let’s look at a few examples:

Just a 10% improvement in feed conversion (from 6.0 to 5.4 pounds of dry feed per pound of gain) saves 480 lbs. of finished, dry ration for each 600 lb. steer that is fed to a final weight of 1400 lbs.

  • That 480-pound savings of feed improves profitability by $45-$50 per head.
  • If each bull produces 100 calves over their lifetime – that’s over $4500 in added post-weaning profitability he earns over his useful lifetime.  
  • That 10% improvement in feed efficiency increases calf value by $7.50/ cwt. in calf value.

What if we could make a 1-pound improvement in feed efficiency?

Say from 7.0 to 6.0 pounds of dry feed per pound of gain…

  • That would save 800 lbs. of dry feed for each 600 lb. feeder steer that was finished to 1400 lbs.
  • Even at only $200 per ton of dry ration, that’s an extra $80 per head at closeout. 
  • That would be worth an additional $6,640 per pot load of 600 lb. calves

To begin the process of gathering this data, so that customers can make better informed bull selection decisions, our family has invested in individual animal feed intake data, which measures the daily dry matter intake (DMI) of individual animals over a prescribed feeding period.

Considering DMI alongside the Average Daily Gain data we’ve collected for decades now allows us to rank bulls for how efficiently they convert pounds of dry feed into pounds of finished animal.   Feed Conversion is presented as Feed:Gain (F:G)  The fall bulls in our 2022 sale are being tested for feed intake, the within-herd variation in F:G will be presented in a ratio format, just like a weaning or yearling ratio. 

We represent this information in the catalog as F:G ratio:

  • A Bull with a 120 F:G ratio was 20% more Feed Efficient.
  • A Bull with an 80 F:G ratio was 20% less Feed Efficient.
  • A Bull with a 100 F:G ratio is average in terms of how efficiently he converted feed into pounds.

But I sell my calves at weaning, why should I worry about the efficiency of their post-weaning feed conversion?

Just as elite marbling genetics have helped many producers of Black and Red Angus calves, earn real premiums for their investment in those higher carcass merit bulls, Feed Efficiency will become part of that added value matrix that differentiates feeder calf value.  But perhaps more importantly than that is the impact that improved feed efficiency could have on cow herd profitability.  During the 2016 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) conference the positive correlation between efficiency of steers in the feedlot and the cowherd on pasture was explained – indicating ranchers who raise their own replacements will build efficiency into their cow herds through using elite F:G bulls.

What will increased efficiency look like in terms of cow herd profitability?   What would even a 5% increase in stocking rate mean to the profitability of our average bull customer?  How many more calves will they wean or revenue will they generate per section of land?  Or per bull purchased?  We believe that selecting feed efficient bulls and then retaining their daughters will be akin to a beef industry golden goose. 

We’ll continue to provide educational resources in advance of our 2022 Annual Bull Sale, which will be held at our bull development facility near Elmdale, KS on Friday, March 18th.  In the meantime, if you have a question about our feed efficiency data give us a call or email us at info@mushrushranches.com and we would be happy to share our information and experience with you.