Beefmasters Excel in Feed Efficiency Evaluation


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducted a feed efficiency evaluation at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Neb., on 18 beef cattle breeds. The feed efficiency test results ranked the Beefmaster breed second for Average Daily Gain (ADG) and Dry Matter Intake (DMI) in both steers and heifers. Only one other breed ranked in the top five in ADG and DMI for both sexes in this study and they were below the mark set by Beefmasters.

Ranking Breed Steer Ranking Breed Heifer
1 Limousin 0.206 1 South Devon 0.203
2 Beefmaster 0.203 2 Beefmaster 0.096
3 Chiangus 0.13 3 Hereford 0.094
3 Maine Anjou 0.13 4 Maine Anjou 0.031
4 Santa Gertrudis 0.119 5 Charolais 0.03
5 Gelbvieh 0.107 6 Shorthorn 0.025
6 Brahman 0.1 7 Limousin 0.017
7 Hereford 0.099 8 Santa Gerturudis 0.012
8 Braunvieh 0.073 9 Chiangus 0.008
9 Charolais 0.07 10 Salers 0.002
9 Salers 0.07 11 Angus 0
9 Shorthorn 0.07 12 Simmental -0.004
10 Tarentaise 0.05 12 Red Angus -0.004
11 Simmental 0.027 13 Brahman -0.023
12 Angus 0 14 Gelbvieh -0.027
13 Brangus -0.002 15 Brangus -0.049
14 Red Angus -0.014 16 Braunvieh -0.078
15 South Devon -0.041 17 Tarentaise -0.081


Details about the evaluation:

The 18 breed USMARC study evaluated 5,606 head of cattle (composed of finishing steers and growing replacement heifers) for DMI, ADG and Post Weaning Gain (PWG). DMI and ADG data were recorded over 62 to 148 day periods for both steers and heifers. PWG was calculated by dividing gain from weaning to yearling weights by the number of days between the weights. Individual animal feed intake data was measured daily as a key component of the evaluation. All animals used were from the U.S. MARC germplasm evaluation project.

Using the Angus breed as a base of zero (0), the other breeds were compared back to the Angus as a baseline for both steers and heifers, where they were evaluated for efficiency using ADG and PWG during feed intake data collection. Beefmasters ranked second for ADG in both steers and heifers.

Feed Efficiency Adds Value

Feed efficiency is important for all sectors of the industry. Cattlemen have known this for a long time. The challenge has always been finding a cost effective way to measure feed efficiency in individual animals. Over the past decade new technologies, such as GrowSafe Systems LLC, have emerged as a means to collect detailed individual animal feed intake data, from which individual animal feed conversions can be extracted. With the inclusion of this powerful new individual intake and conversion data, researchers are now conducting exciting new feed efficiency evaluations which are identifying more efficient animals. When one considers the impact of adding the power of genomics to the equation, the prospects of making rapid genetic improvements in the area of feed efficiency is exciting.

Feed Efficiency Impacts Cow-Calf Sector

Improved feed efficiency relates directly to the cow-calf operator. Annual cow maintenance costs are the largest expense in all cow-calf programs. Replacing large appetite and high maintenance cows with more feed efficient females impacts the bottom line by reducing annual cow costs. In operations where supplemental feeding is required for the cow herd, more feed efficient cows post cost savings to the bottom line.

While current research is focused on measuring feed efficiency, science is also unraveling the relationship between efficiency on feed vs. efficiency on pasture. Some limited research has shown that the same cattle that are efficient on feed will also be more efficient on forage. That remains to be proven in large scale projects, but scientists are working to solve the pasture efficiency question.

Some efficiency researchers hypothesize that specific efficiency traits, such as Residual Feed Intake (RFI), is a maternal trait. If that is correct, the way ranchers make mating decisions in the future could be greatly impacted because selecting for feed efficiency would become as common as using birth weight EPDs.

Feed Efficiency in the Feedyard

The impact of feed efficiency on cattle feeders is obvious. Identifying genetics that gain more while eating less feed is a recipe for profitability. Over the past 10 years, the beef industry has focused almost exclusively on Quality Grade in our finished cattle. The push to improve marbling to earn the carcass premiums that come with it, coupled with relatively inexpensive corn, has distracted many cattle feeders away from the importance of feed conversion to total profitability. Do you remember when the ethanol subsidies pushed corn to record prices? That was the last time the industry was vocal about the need for more feed efficient cattle.

Cattle with better feed conversions have fewer days on feed and lower cost of gain, resulting in serious cost savings for their owners. These feed efficiency upgrades come with even more value in the case of Beefmasters when you factor in advantages for dressing percentage, which lead to more pounds to add to your grid pricing worksheet. It takes a historically large Choice/Select spread to override the value adding combination of cattle that convert on feed in the mid 5:1 range, post over 3.5 ADG, dress in the 64%-65% range and hang up predominantly Yield Grade 2 carcasses. Beefmaster steers are doing just that in feedyards across the country, while still Quality Grading at acceptable levels.

Beefmasters are gaining attention as the beef industry begins to seek out efficiency genetics to bridge the gap to optimal, cost effective production practices. Beefmasters have been long regarded as a versatile maternal breed, but this feed efficiency study points out that Beefmasters bring significant value drivers to the cattle feeder as well.

This study, buoyed by individual animal feed intake technology, points out major feed efficiency differences between breeds. For years Beefmasters have been recognized as solid feedyard performers with superior health, lower cost of gain and superior feed conversion rates. Feed efficiency, coupled with higher yielding and improved dressing percentages, adds a new layer of added value over the top of today’s grid pricing mechanisms.

Crossbreeding with Beefmasters

Efficiency doesn’t stop at the feed bunk. Beefmasters add efficiency through a powerful heterosis kick that will improve fertility, longevity, health, improved pay weights and overall profitability. Thanks to the strong Bos indicus base, Beefmasters are truly unique among composite breeds. According to geneticists, Beefmaster post 63% retained heterosis which is a great advantage on the maternal side.

Beefmaster bulls used on high percentage Angus cows yield results that keep the cowman in business and the feedyard happy. This popular cross anchors the maternal equation with progeny being 75% British and 25% ear. Enough Bos indicus to ramp up maternal heterosis, while maintaining market and carcass acceptability of the Angus/Hereford/Shorthorn influence. Being predominantly black-hided and showing very little ear or navel, calves of this cross consistently earn branded premiums that other black-hided calves earn. The biggest difference is the extra pounds of pay weight and replacement females that stay in the herd significantly longer than straight Bos taurus cows. All of this thanks to heterosis.


The versatility and adaptability of Beefmasters is eye opening. Many breeds talk about how adaptable they are, but Beefmasters prove it. Two of the largest markets for Beefmaster bulls are the high desert of the Northwest region and the Gulf Coast region, which stretches from Mexico all the way to Florida and the Atlantic coastline. Ranchers in these wildly different environments use Beefmasters to anchor the maternal needs for their commercial operations.

In the high desert ranchers are able to utilize more country simply because hardier Beefmaster cross cows will travel farther to water sources than high percentage British cows. The willingness to cover more country, utilizing native pasture and thrive in higher elevations creates efficiency and provides great value to ranchers.

Gulf Coast conditions provide a totally different set of challenges for ranchers. Hot, very humid conditions with lots of low quality forage, coupled with unprecedented insect and parasite loads makes ranching in this region very challenging. The challenges of maintaining body condition scores and getting cows bred back make Beefmasters a great choice in this region. The bonus of heavier calf pay weights due to Beefmaster performance is also a nice upgrade.

Beefmaster bull users in these two very different environments tend to be large scale commercial herds. The feeder calves produced from these large herds go directly into some of the beef industry’s best known branded beef programs. Beefmaster sired steers have earned a reputation for meeting the carcass specifications for these demanding programs and being the most profitable cattle in those supply chains.

For cattlemen facing the challenges of fescue country, Brahman influenced genetics have been documented to handle the effects of fescue toxicity better than any other genetic combination. The efficiency advantage Beefmaster offers farmers in the fescue belt is impressive. Combining the breed complimentary crossbreeding effect of Beefmaster with the predominantly Angus herds of this region yields great value, all thanks to the proven attributes of heterosis.

A Systems Approach to Efficiency

The key to profitability is identifying the genetics and management scenarios that fit the marketing program or supply chain that your calves will eventually wind up in. In other words streamlining your product to fit the system. There are some basic steps every cattleman can take to increase efficiency. The industry has known about these tools for some time, but have not correctly capitalized on them.

Crossbreeding is the simplest way to implement efficiency and will yield the greatest return for commercial cattlemen. The benefits of direct and maternal heterosis have been documented time and time again. Implementing an organized, controlled crossbreeding program will make your entire operation more efficient. Including Beefmasters as a key ingredient will allow you to squeeze more profit out of your program.

USMARC Feed Efficiency Trial 2017

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