Optimizing Feed Efficiency

December 15, 2020

Optimizing Feed Efficiency

Two of the largest variable costs facing the cattle feeding sector are purchasing a calf and the amount of feed needed to finish the calf. Having the ability to use less feed to finish the calf substantially improves the profitability in production and severely diminishes environmental implications. Because poor growing conditions in major grain producing countries, the use of feed grains in ethanal production, and increasing competition of land for crop production versus urban development, feed costs are high and may not come down for a while. Optimizing feed efficiency is one of the best ways to cut your costs while improving the quality of your herd.

Beef farmers have a very good understanding of growth rate. Growth rate is a measurement of how fast an animal grows or gains weight over a set period. However, it doesn’t take into account the amount of feed required to achieve this gain.

Feed efficiency (Feed Conversion Ratio [FCR]) is the amount of dry matter feed required to gain one unit of gain. In the case of beef cattle, this runs between 4.5 and 7.5 (the lower the number, the better). Actually, compared to other livestock, ruminants have a poor FCR. On average, beef cattle average a FCR of 6:1 (6 lbs. of feed for an animal to gain 1 lb. live weight).

Cattle using C-Lock SmartScale in Feedlot

Take a look at the following example:

Steer A

Steer B

Starting Weight (lbs)



Growth Rate (lbs/day)



Dry Matter Intake lbs/day



Feed Conversion Ratio



Ration Cost ($/lb DM)



Days on Feed



Cost per Day ($)



Total Feed Cost ($)



(BCRC: 2016)

In this example, two steers enter a feedlot at the same weight and grow at the same rate. Steer A consumes 21 lbs. of dry matter. Steer B consumes 28 lbs. of dry matter to grow at the same rate. The FCR shows that Steer A is more efficient because it takes less feed to grow at the same rate as Steer B. Assuming a feed cost of $187 per ton, Steer B costs $0.59 per day more to feed. If both animals reach their finishing weight in 200 days, the less efficient animal (Steer B) will have cost $119 more than the more efficient animal (Steer A). It goes without saying that optimizing feed efficiency for profitability.

So, why is it that ruminants are so feed inefficient? Partly because of their diets. Ruminants consume diets that are much higher in fiber. Ruminants depend on microorganisms, through rumen fermentation, for digestion. During this fermentation, bacteria produce byproducts that alter the efficiency of digestions. Ruminants also have a higher maintenance requirement compared to other livestock. Over half of the feed intake for a ruminant is used for just to keep the animal alive and functioning.

Additionally, increasing feed efficiency goes beyond livestock management practices. Selecting cattle that are genetically feed efficient is just as important. Research is being conducted around the globe revolving around genetic improvements in feed efficiency by measuring Residual Feed Intake. Much of this research is being conducted using our own GreenFeed systems. You can view the list of publications here.

Residual Feed Intake (RFI) has become popular as a better method to measure feed efficiency. Residual Feed Intake is the difference between an animal’s actual feed intake and the anima’s expected intake based on its body weight and growth rate. Access to an individual animal’s weight and feed consumption is essential in determining RFI and FCR. Our SmartFeed and SmartScale systems work to provide you with the most accurate feed intake and weight data available to optimize feed efficiency in your animals.

SmartFeed in use at Feedlot

The SmartFeed system allows you to measure the feed intake of individual animals through an RFID while the SmartScale allows you to accurately weigh individual animals. Used together, this data will help you identify the most and least feed efficient animals in your herd. By identifying and optimizing feed efficiency in your herd, you’ll not only see you bottom line improve, but the overall health of your herd as well.

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