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First data collection completed in national beef cattle feed efficiency programme

AHDB | AHDB Beef and Lamb

3 min read Partner content

Data collection is now complete for the first batch of cattle involved in the ground-breaking Beef Feed Efficiency Programme, marking an important project milestone.

The Defra and AHDB-funded programme aims to develop standard recording approaches and create a network of industry embedded recording units. The programme is also developing an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) for Feed Efficiency to aid genetic selection within the Limousin breed, with the aim of extending this to other cattle breeds in future.

The initial phase of the project, which is now underway, involves beef cattle from both the suckler and the dairy herd being tested at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). The first test batch included 93 Limousin-sired cattle, ranging from eight to 11 months old at the start of the trial. The cattle represent 13 sires and originated from 10 herds spread geographically from Orkney to the North of England.

In order to ensure high health status, the steers were quarantined for health testing over four weeks, before moving to a four-week acclimatisation period to enable them to learn how to use the feed troughs. The troughs recognise electronic identification tags and continuously monitor the weight of the feed in order to record intake on each feeding occasion. Trial data collection began in early September and continued for nine weeks. Other parameters measured during the trial include liveweight, backfat depth and carcase weight and classification.

Approximately 500 cattle will be tested at SRUC in total, before the recording is rolled out to two or three specially equipped commercial farms. Various options are being investigated to ensure a steady supply of cattle for the programme. The next batch will include cattle moved on to the test unit under a ‘bed and breakfast’ type arrangement, where the farmer retains ownership and the cattle return to their herd of origin after the test period. Such an approach is likely to play an increasingly important part as the programme moves towards developing a sustainable future.

During a recent visit to SRUC, Dr Huw Jones from the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), chair of the programme’s business planning group, said that although the initial work is based on Limousin-sired cattle, all major breeds represented in the UK national beef herd are expected to benefit from the results.

“The initial phase, as well as establishing a Feed Efficiency EBV for Limousins, will enable us to develop robust data collection protocols, taking into account factors such as the duration of the feed intake recording period, frequency of cattle weighing and cattle sourcing options,” he said.

“Once agreed, this approach can then be used across the commercial recording units that will be established.

“Progress to date has been encouraging and I believe that the programme, while ambitious, has the potential to deliver real impact across the whole beef industry.”

The programme team is looking to purchase or loan Limousin or Limousin-cross calves, from dairy or beef dams, which will be eight to 10 months old in mid-March 2016. Other criteria of calves required for the programme include known pedigree Limousin sire, groups of eight to 16 by the same sire, BVD accredited-free herds of origin or calves individually tested.

If you have calves that meet these criteria please contact either Natalie Cormack on 07866 934563, email natalie.cormack@ahdb.org.uk or Alison Glasgow on 07885 255621, email alison@limousin.co.uk

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