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Test gauges bulls’ genetic feed efficiency traits

Efficient use of resources is the key to a successful business. The same is true in agriculture, especially in raising livestock.

The value of cattle and calves in New Mexico amounted to $1.09 billion in 2014, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With the impact of drought on the semi-arid rangeland, New Mexico cattle breeders realize the importance of improving their herd’s genetic trait of efficient conversion of forage and feed nutrients.

“Making a 10 percent improvement on feed efficiency can have a tremendous impact to our industry,” said John Heckendorn, owner of J-C Angus Ranch in Moriarty. “It can have a billion-dollar impact on our industry.”

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Since 1961, cattle producers have participated in the Tucumcari Bull Performance Test at New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari to see if their breeding stock is producing the best sires possible.

“Producers have entered their bulls into the performance test to see how each animal develops in our controlled feeding program,” said Marcy Ward, NMSU’s Extension livestock specialist and bull test director. “We track the bull’s average daily gain, feed efficiency and carcass development, while producing 30-day, 60-day, 90-day and 120-day performance reports.”

This year, a group of cattlemen has taken the study to the next level. The group purchased the latest feed intake technology to bring efficient conversion of feed to the forefront in the genetic selection process.

“Because of the extended drought, identifying bulls with genetics that make them efficient at converting nutrients from the high roughage diet they consume while grazing on our rangeland will help our animals be able to do more with less,” said Heckendorn.

The Tucumcari Feed Efficiency Test LLC purchased state-of-the-art technology by GrowSafe Systems to document the amount of feed consumed by the individual animals.

“We’re excited about having the technology in New Mexico,” Heckendorn said. “It’s expensive technology, but we think it’s very important to identify those animals that are more feed-efficient.”

Prior to the new system, feed was placed in bunks for a pen of up to four bulls from the same sire group.

Data on how much the individual animal ate were not available so breeders could judge the quality of the animal only by sonogram data regarding the carcass development.

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The new system records each animal’s feeding activity. When the animal places its head into the feeder, an electronic identification tag is read and information is sent to a computer via radio frequency.

“The system recognizes which animal is at the feeder, at what time of the day, how long they stay at the feeder and how much they eat,” Ward said. “It measures their consumption to the ounce.”

This system is used at other bull performance tests and feed lots around the country.

“It’s amazing the difference from individual animals,” Heckendorn said. “Some animals will convert 3 to 4 pounds of feed per pound gain, some are converting 10 to 12 pounds of feed per pound of gain. Obviously, we would prefer the consumption of 3 to 4 pounds of feed, which equals less cost to produce that weight gain.”

To complement the new feeder system, the producers invested in facility improvement that has expanded the livestock pens to allow more than 300 square feet per animal for the 100 bulls, which in turn helps the animals’ physical condition.

“The combination of the high roughage diet, more ability to exercise and the commingling environment means the bulls are better prepared to hit the ground running,” Ward said.

The 120-day performance test concludes with a bull sale, where cattle producers can enhance their herd by purchasing a bull that has the genetic traits they desire.

For more information about the individual bulls’ performance test results, visit tucbulltest.nmsu.edu.

 

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