New beef tool could cut feed costs and reduce GHG emissions

A new tool that allows beef animals to be selected for feed efficiency has the potential to reduce feed bills across the UK beef industry by up to £12.5 million, while also accelerating the reduction of beef-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 27% over a 20-year period.

The tool was developed by the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme – established by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) – the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the Scottish Government and ABP Food Group.

Farming Minister Victoria Prentis welcomed the news of the project following the completion of its first phase.

“This innovative programme for beef farmers is fantastic news, both as a cost-saving tool and for the environment, as it will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the industry,” she said.

“As we move to a new system where we will reward farmers for the environmental benefits they deliver on their land, innovative approaches like these will be integral to profitable and sustainable food production, which work towards net zero farming emissions in the UK.”

How does the beef tool work?

The project studied Limousin and Angus store cattle to identify animals and sire groups that eat less than others but achieve the same growth rates. From this, it has defined a number of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for feed efficiency traits, along with a sub-index, which will enable beef farmers to select cattle for improved feed efficiency.

Manager of the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme Natalie Cormack said:

We are now able to provide genetic selection information at breeder level that, when implemented, can achieve clear reduction in feed costs.”

The programme resulted in a saving of 25p/day/animal for the group with the lowest residual feed intake (RFI) compared to the group with the highest RFI. If this sample is representative of all prime slaughtered beef cattle in the UK, then, if scaled up, it would equate to a saving of about £61 million cross all cattle finished over a 120-day period and a reduction of 13,000ha used for grazing and forage production across the industry.

“Animals that eat less while maintaining performance will also reduce their GHG production as well as needing less ground to sustain them. The programme therefore provides a solution to two key issues which are impacting our industry,” Cormack added.

Phase two of the project, which is funded by Defra, will extend feed intake measurements and also study how increased feed efficiency relates to meat quality. An additional 1,500 cattle will be measured for meat quality over the next three years.