With more genetic research, tools and overall advancement, the beef industry can pursue more ambitious and complex breeding goals. One of the most important in this realm is feed efficiency, a trait that is extremely profitable but difficult to capture.
Fortunately, the Limousin breed continues to be the leader in the charge on feed efficiency. In 2020, 11 Limousin bulls made the GrowSafe Systems® list for the Top 150 Proven bulls for Residual Feed Intake (RFI). Wulf Cattle’s WULFS XCELLSIOR X252X ranked number 1 on the list, followed by seven others in the top 35.
This helped to demonstrate that Limousin genetics stand superior in feed efficiency and are proven to add more dollars to the commercial producer’s pocket.
“Limousin as a breed has an inherited advantage of making a feed efficient cow,” says Austin Hager, the fourth generation of Hager Cattle Company in North Dakota. “(It) is in the driver’s seat of any other breed out there in terms of feed efficiency. This breed is collecting more data than any other breed out there.”
Why focus on feed?
Feed efficiency and feed conversion ratio have been economically driving beef for decades, according to Bob Weaber of Kansas State University.
“Until recently, selection for improved average daily gain via improved growth rate was the principle method breeders used to improve feed efficiency,” he explains. “While selection to improve feed efficiency via selection for Average Daily Gain is effective it comes with some consequences, particularly increases in mature cow weight and increase maintenance costs of females.”
However, genetic improvement for feed efficiency and intake is historically constrained by the ability to accurately compile records and data with precise measurements. But with the dawns of the 2000s, research with automated feeding systems and genetics allowed for recordkeeping programs of feed efficiency traits to take off.
“Changes in beef cattle production input costs, of which feed stuffs are the largest budget category, have motivated producers to more fully understand feed efficiency and begin record collection for genetic evaluation,” says Weaber.
The cost of feed is a huge consideration, Hager has experienced this firsthand both as a rancher and a seedstock seller.
“Our feed supply was 70% less than normal this year due to the drought,” he said. “Feed costs in our country are astronomical. If your cattle convert fewer pounds of feed to more pounds of gain, it adds points to the dividends at your bottom line at the end of the day and end of the year.”
Industrywide, Hager believes that feed efficiency is something that’s been given the attention its due despite the creeping feed costs.
“Anyone going through a drought like we are this year knows that it pays to have cows that are more efficient.”
Feeding over 100,000 head a year and being in the seedstock business, Wulf Cattle in Morris, Minnesota, has a vested interest in feed efficiency according to the head of genetic sales Casey Fanta.
Besides for on-farm advantages, Wulf Cattle also uses Limousin and LimFlex genetics to add value to the dairy industry to produce what they call Beef Builder dairy cross calves. And their bull customers – approximately 600 per year – also appreciate that aspect.
“We’ve always understood the efficiency of Limousin cattle just with what we’ve observed,” he says. “I feel like it has been underutilized. It’s something that people don’t understand and it’s not something that you can see; it has to be measured so it’s maybe not as much fun as visually compiling data.”
In Fanta’s experience, efficiency is certainly heritable as well and they continue to run feeding tests on well over 500 bulls each year.
“It takes a long time to move the needle but understanding what sire sires add efficiency is an excellent way to do that,” he says of the genetic component.
Weaber says that breed research data collected at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, (reported by Retallick et al., 2017, in J. of Animal Science) confirms this as Limousin-sired steers continually demonstrated their feed efficient superiority.
“The data revealed that Limousin sired steers had statistically lower feed intake (~2.6 lb./head/day) compared to Angus, but no difference in gain performance,” he explains, “making Limousin steers more feed efficient. Limousin sires can be valuable contributors to crossbreeding systems to improve feed efficiency and carcass red meat yield.”
He adds that while most of the genetic research for feed has focused on growing animals, the correlation in mature animals is also favorable. With that in mind, he notes that improving feed efficiency of animals on high concentrate diets should have a positive impact on cows as well.
“Direct selection for appropriate mature cow weight and lactation, and these traits association with maintenance costs of beef cows, should not be overlooked in system-level breeding systems to improve feed utilization across the value chain. Remember, cow maintenance costs represent about one-half of the total calories consumed in the beef value chain,” he notes.
“It takes a lot of discipline to do this because they are a little bit different for feed efficiency, depending on what stage in their life they go on feed in,” says Fanta. “A calf who weans really heavy just doesn’t have the same growth potential. There’s a lot of things to understand and one of the best things we can do is try to make this as equal as possible and compare them within their contemporary groups.”
For all its profitable aspects, feed efficiency also has a positive secondary side effect that shouldn’t be underscored, that being a positive consumer message.
“They will realize there are breeds of cattle out there that can take feedstuffs and go from birth to finish on fewer pounds of feed it just makes everything as a whole more efficient,” says Hager. “If that can be communicated in a positive message to the consumers that’s absolutely a good thing.”
Limousin cattle deliver to your bottom line. With superior genetics, a simple crossbreeding plan and state-of-the-art selection tools, the Limousin breed will serve profit-minded cow/calf producers. In today’s competitive markets, taking advantage of all available opportunities is key. The Limousin breed offers a variety of options from Fullblood to Purebred to the Lim-Flex® hybrid (Limousin x Angus cross) to match your program’s needs and market goals. Crossbreeding for the right blend of muscle, maternal ability and profit is easy with Limousin seedstock.