Improving feed efficiency should be a goal of every beef cow/calf operation. Producers must find the time to analyze data, and strategize to make their business more profitable and successful, says a Kansas State University Research and Extension beef breeding, genetics and cow/calf specialist.

Bob Weaber says feed efficiency is converting pounds of feed resources, whether that is a concentrated diet in a feedlot or a diet of range and pasture forage, into pounds of calf gain.

“Feed costs are associated with about 60 percent to 70 percent of total beef production costs,” Weaber said. “A large chunk of those are realized in a feedlot, but it’s also important to think about feed efficiency on the cow side.”

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Fed cattle only account for 30 percent of the total calories consumed in the entire beef sector, he said. Ignoring the cow/calf side of the beef production system, which consumes the remaining 70 percent of the total calories, means producers are missing a great opportunity to not only change feed costs, but also improve efficiency, sustainability and the impact of the beef production system on the environment.

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Cattle in the commercial feedlot are easy to evaluate for feed efficiency, Weaber said. On a pen-wide basis, feedlot managers know how much feed the cattle consume, as every feed truck is weighed, and cattle owners are billed accordingly.

“We know how much the cattle cost going into the feedlot and how much they weighed,” he said. “We know what the value is when they leave the feedlot in terms of grid value, carcass merit, live weight or other output measurement. That’s easy to capture.”

Understanding efficiency at the cow/calf level is a much more complicated issue, Weaber said.

 

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