Cattle eating habits tracked

John Basarab recalls a remarkable calf.

John Basarab recalls a remarkable calf.

The animal, which was being finished in a feedlot, was packing on five pounds a day and reached slaughter weight in just 10 1/2 months.

This performance attracted the attention of Basarab, a beef research scientist at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Lacombe Research Station, and other researchers.

They discovered that the calf hadn’t earned its owner the profit it appeared to.

“When we looked at it, it was eating 50 per cent more than the next animal in the pen,” he said. “It had a huge appetite.”

For the past 15 years, Basarab has been looking at an alternative to the rate-of-gain breeding value that producers have long relied upon.

He thinks residual feed intake might be a better yardstick.

Essentially, that’s the efficiency with which cattle convert feed to weight.

The challenge Basarab initially faced was accurately measuring the amount of feed consumed by each animal.

But a solution was provided by GrowSafe Systems Ltd. of Airdrie, which combined RFID (radio-frequency identification) eartags and sensor-equipped feed stations to track what individual calves were eating.

This made it possible to calculate the residual feed intake of each animal, which in turn could be used to assign it an estimated breeding value based on feed conversion efficiency.

The trait would be inherited — to a certain extent — by the animal’s offspring. And it varies between cattle, but not necessarily between breeds, noted Basarab.

“The difference between breeds are much, much, much less in terms of this trait — and like many other inheritable traits — than the differences within a breed,” he said. “There are huge differences within any breed.”

Global interest in residual feed intake is apparent from the growth in the number of GrowSafe Systems and comparable systems being used. In 2000, the total testing capacity was about 500 animals; today it’s 68,000.

The Alberta government has even approved residual feed intake as a carbon offset protocol — allowing farmers to accumulate and sell the resulting greenhouse gas reductions from their herds as carbon dioxide equivalent credits. Basarab confirmed that reduced feed consumption is linked directly to reduced methane production.

“The more you eat the more you produce.”

But the real incentive for cattle producers is the reduced feed costs they can realize by having animals with low residual feed intake values. There’s the possibility that carbon offset revenues could become a strong incentive as well, if the price of CO2 equivalent credits rise, noted Basarab.

Currently, cattle can be tested at about eight facilities in Alberta, including at Olds College. The resulting data should become increasingly accurate as advances are made in cattle genomics, and the ability to link an animal’s DNA to its feed conversion efficiency.

“You’ll get much more accurate estimated breeding values, earlier,” said Basarab.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing news conference at Tregenna Castle following the G7 Summit in St. Ives, Cornwall, England, on Sunday, June 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges support for Ukraine, mum on support for next step in NATO membership

Canada will continue to help address security threats in region

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada to receive 9.5M vaccine doses this week thanks to influx of Moderna shots

Shipments over the next seven days will more than double the number of shots Moderna has sent Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women’s international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England on April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rui Vieira
Canada coach Bev Priestman hopes to see improved performance against Brazil

Priestman will likely field a more senior lineup to start Monday

Jimmy Smits arrives at a special screening of “In the Heights” during the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Jimmy Smits figured he could carry a tune ‘In the Heights’

‘In the Heights’ follows dreams and struggles of Latino community in New York

Actress Devery Jacobs poses for photographs on the red carpet during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Thursday, September 13, 2018. Jacobs grew up in the Kanien’kehá:ka Mohawk Territory in Quebec but says shooting her new TV series “Reservation Dogs” in the U.S. felt like “a sense of home. ” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto-based Devery Jacobs on starring in Indigenous-led series ‘Reservation Dogs’

Series to make its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Most Read