FEED EFFICIENCY
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Selko | Dairy Performance

FEED EFFICIENCY

Breeding for feed efficiency increases utilisation of roughage intake of dairy cattle

The key takeaway from this article

  • Breeding dairy cows that are more efficient reduces increase utilisation of roughage but decreases feed intake capacity
  • Effcient dairy cows utilise roughage better for milk production but do not eat more concentrate
  • For practical purposes, there seems to be little advantage in distinguishing between roughage and concentrate intake efficiency

A higher feed efficiency is directly linked to better roughage utilisation, but not to a higher intake of concentrate

Professor Roel Veerkamp, researcher at the Animal Breeding and Genomics group at Wageningen Livestock Research and his team analysed a data set containing the feed intake, weight and milk production data of more than 3000 cows. They concluded that a higher feed efficiency is directly linked to better roughage utilisation.

Dairy cows with a higher feed intake are less efficient

In their analysis, the researchers investigated - among other aspects - the (genetic) relationship between feed efficiency and the feed intake capacity of dairy cows. Breeding for feed intake capacity reduces the feed efficiency, however breeding for feed efficiency traits also reduces the feed intake capacity of dairy cattle. This might seem to be unfavourable, but it is not according to Professor Veerkamp. ‘Dairy cows with a reduced feed intake capacity are not at a disadvantage, as long as the feed they do eat is efficiently converted into milk production’, he states. ‘The additional feed intake of cows that eat a lot does not translate into a higher milk production. In other words, dairy cows with a higher feed intake produce less efficiently, partly because they are heavier.’

Feed efficiency of dairy cows is a key driver of dairy farm profitability

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Concentrate feed intake efficiency of dairy cows is not hereditary

The researchers also focussed on whether breeding dairy cattle for feed efficiency results in cows that need a higher concentrate ration to achieve the same milk production. They concluded that cows with a high total feed efficiency also utilise the roughage component of their ration efficiently. The researchers did not find any genetic differences in concentrate feed intake efficiency. According to them - for practical purposes in the Netherlands and Flanders - there seems to be little advantage in distinguishing between roughage and concentrate intake efficiency of dairy cows.

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Dairy cows with a high feed efficiency have a lower feed intake but achieve the same production of milk. Does this imply that breeding should focus on cows that need a relatively high concentrate ration? Research in dairy cows contradicts this. Farmers who breed for feed efficiency also breed for roughage utilisation of dairy cows.

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