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Evaluating Relationship Between Feedlot and Pasture Intake

Study shows high intake in the feedlot correlates to high intake on pasture.

by Troy Smith, field editor

LOVELAND, Colo., June 22, 2018 —On average, feed costs represent up to 70% of total production costs for a cow-calf operation. Feed in its various forms represents a huge cost to producers. But cows must eat, right? As the old timers say, “You can’t starve a profit out of a cow.”

However, it is estimated a 10% improvement in feed efficiency equates to a 43% reduction in total feed costs. It makes feed efficiency look pretty important.

That was the logic shared by Colorado State University doctoral candidate Miranda Culbertson, as she explained the motivation for a research project she conducted as part of her graduate studies. Culbertson discussed the study during the 2018 Beef Improvement Federation Convention June 20-23 in Loveland, Colo.

“You have to be able to measure feed intake to determine output per unit of feed. But it’s challenging to measure forage intake of grazing animals. It’s just not as easy in the pasture as when cattle are fed in confinement,” said Culbertson.

So, it’s not surprising that genetic improvement in feed efficiency has been based on measures of feed efficiency of cattle fed a ration while in confinement, with the general assumption that feed efficiency in the feedlot is comparable to feed efficiency in the pasture.

Culbertson described a study using stocker steers that, after a period of confinement with measurement of feed intake, were subjected to a grazing period during which fecal sample collection was used to gain a reasonable measure of pasture forage intake. What Culbertson learned was that steers identified for high vs. low feed intake while in confinement also fit corresponding high or low forage intake groups.

“High-intake animals in the feedlot were high-intake animals on pasture,” stated Culbertson. “More information is needed, and more results from research on forage intake are coming, but this study suggests a strong correlation between individual animal intake in the feedlot and intake while grazing.”

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