US – Learning useful lessons about dairy cow feed efficiency will require rudimentary steps to be taken before major benefits are felt.
Furthermore, dairy has a lot of catching up to do on pig, poultry and beef sector investigation, although the gap is being made up all the time.
This is according to a US Department of Agriculture researcher Erin Connor who, while addressing the British Society of Animal Science conference last month, admitted that scientists still aren’t 100 per cent sure about how to test feed efficiency.
“Much debate still exists as to how best to evaluate feed efficiency in lactating cows,” Mrs Connor told the conference.
“Although means to improve feed efficiency in poultry, swine and beef cattle are well investigated, research specifically into dairy cattle is less prevalent and has only recently started consistently appearing in science literature.”
Mrs Connor explained the range of research currently on-going at the USDA and the potential rewards it could bring to agriculture.
Listing the benefits, Mrs Connor highlighted sustainable agriculture and resource use as beneficiaries of increases in feed efficiency, as well as the reduction in feed costs.
“One of the greatest threats to profitability is the cost of feeding animals,” she explained. “Feed costs tend to be around 40-60 per cent of total production costs.”
She explained that it is possible to test cattle to select the more efficient animals which show no sacrifice to health, yield or fertility.
However, in order to do this, experts need to provide dairymen with the appropriate tools to do so.
Currently, the USDA’s Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Maryland is analysing residual feed intake (RFI) of cattle and trying to assign characteristics that can help address this problem.
Genetic and physiological factors are being analysed to look at how cows use feed across their lifecycle.
Questions about whether RFI at the heifer rearing stage and RFI during lactation respond to each other are the types of questions intended to be answered, added Mrs Connor.
The end goal is to solve the mystery around why some cows have good RFI attributes and others do not and what physiological and genetic features in animals dictate this.
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