Cow Efficiency: Genetics Role in Building a Better Cow

December 4, 2015 03:23 PM

Note: This story is the second part of a three part series on cow efficiency. Part one on economic efficiency can be found here.

Currently, the U.S. cowherd is in rebuilding mode. While more heifers are being held back cattlemen need to consider how to make their herd more profitable. The best way to do that might be improving the efficiency of your cows.

During the Range Beef Cow Symposium held in Loveland, Colo. a panel of ranchers described how they have improved the efficiency of their cowherds and gave advice on what can be done by other producers.

Genetics play a role in how cattle will ultimately perform. Douglas Olsen, owner of Olsen Ranches, Inc. near Harrisburg, Neb. has been evaluating Hereford genetics through the American Hereford Association's National Reference Sire Program since 1999. In those 16 years Olsen has helped analyze 10,400 calves from 200-plus bulls for the program.

“Efficiency simply put is the input over the output,” Olsen says. “An efficient cow must be able to convert forage into to a high value calf.”

Olsen Ranches raises commercial Hereford and Red Angus cows, with a small registered herd as well. All steers and non-replacement heifers are fed to finish in the family feedlot.

In 2010, Olsen installed a GrowSafe system to measure feed intake data and track gains on the fed cattle. Since then almost 1,800 steers have gone through the system to help evaluate the efficiency of 71 sires in the Hereford and Red Angus breeds.

In 2012, a group of 209 steers were sent through the system to evaluate 13 sires. When looking at two groups of similar in-weight steers sired by two different bulls there was a $36.14 difference in feed cost between them for the 72 days. Another comparison between similar in-weight steers showed 0.63 lb. improvement in ADG and a value change difference of almost $50/head.

“There is an opportunity for change. We know feed efficiency is heritable and with selection we can change it,” Olsen says.

Residual feed intake (RFI) is another data measure Olsen has looked at to improve the efficiency of his herd.

Doing these various measurements has helped reinforce that visual appraisal will not move the cowherd forward in being more feed efficient.

Note: The cow efficiency series will continue with perspective from a Colorado beef producer.

The first story in the series Cow Efficiency: Economic Considerations for Building a Better Cow is available to read.

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