Grant Winner: University of Wyoming and Byergo Angus Ranch Creating a Sustainability Selection Index within the Beef Cattle Industry

April 26, 2024

The University of Wyoming Laramie Research & Extension Center (LREC) was established in 1891 and focuses on beef, sheep, swine, and rangeland livestock production. Their mission at LREC is to provide research, extension, and teaching opportunities that will foster the sustainability of farming and ranching operations in both the present and future. Today, LREC strives to connect with real-world industry and is partnered with the Byergo Angus Ranch. Nestled in St. Joseph, MO, the Byergo Angus Ranch was established in 1950 with one foundation cow by the name of Elia of South Oaks and her two daughters. Today, the Byergo Angus Ranch is home to nearly 1,000 brood cows with more than 80% of their cow herd being traced back to Miss Elia of South Oaks. With decades of dedication and considerable selection of their cow herd, the Byergo Angus Ranch provides the global seedstock market with feed efficient beef cattle.

Genetic Selection – a Novel Approach to Reducing Methane Emission Production from Beef Cattle Production

Enteric methane emissions from cattle are produced during the digestion of feed through the process of rumen methanogenesis and accounts for up to 12% dietary, gross energy loss. This energy loss is emitted into the atmosphere via eructation and is considered to be the largest source of global, anthropogenic methane emissions. Several strategies to limit the production of ruminal methane emissions have been developed (e.g., feed additives, dietary manipulation, etc.) and have proven to be successful, however, there are limitations to the viability and longevity of these approaches. Therefore, it is imperative that a viable, long-term solutions are used not only to increase animal efficiency but to reduce the environmental impact of beef production systems. Together, the University of Wyoming LREC and the Byergo Angus Ranch are dedicated to developing a selection index for beef cattle through the genetic selection of animals based on residual feed intake (RFI) as an indirect approach to mitigating methane emissions production from beef cattle. Residual feed intake is determined by evaluating the difference between the actual and expected feed intake and animal performance over time for an animal. Cattle that are considered low RFI are animals that consume less feed while maintaining or performing above average levels and, thus, are expected to produce less methane emissions. To select for these animals, LREC and Byergo Angus Ranch will utilize precision livestock technologies, including preexisting C-Lock Inc. SmartFeed to measure cattle feed intake, rate of gain, and feed conversion rate and newly awarded C-Lock Inc. GreenFeed system to measure methane emissions, carbon dioxide, and oxygen to determine metabolizable energy intake and heat production. In conjunction, LREC will analyze ruminal fluid the identify the rumen microbiome and correlations in animals that differ in performance and efficiency. Collectively, this research aims to develop an expected progeny difference (EPD) index to create a market for cattle that are sired from verified sustainable bulls.

Collaboration with C-Lock Inc.

The overarching goal is to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the beef cattle industry through genetic selection of beef cattle that are feed efficient, emit less methane, maintain performance while ensuring a sustainable and healthful supply of beef.” To support this goal, the following objectives will be achieved:

  • Identify cattle that have the combination of a below average feed conversion, greater than average performance, and reduced methane emissions.
  • Correlate rumen microbiome with phenotypic measurements for feed efficiency, methane
  • emissions, and performance.
  • Develop a selection EPD that will be weighted for feed conversion, growth, and methane emissions while maintaining a high-quality product.
  • Use the developed EPD to create a pull through market with end product industry partners to increase profitability of progressive producers willing to invest in environmentally sustainable genetics.

Through the shared interests of the University of Wyoming LREC, the Byergo Angus Ranch, and C-Lock Inc., it is expected that the success of this study will result in the development of an EPD selection index for sustainable beef cattle, provide resources for global seedstock producers to verify their stock genetics, and premium markets that will encourage producers to conside selecting for cattle that are more efficient at utilizing resources. Further, this will lead to the partnership of producers, feeders, and retailers with the common goal of improving the sustainability of beef cattle production.