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How to Measure and Increase Feed Efficiency in Livestock Farming

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Every business, whether in the agriculture industry or outside of it, wants to make sure they can optimize their profits and sustainably run their company. Therefore, if a livestock company wants to make sure they are keeping costs at bay and running profits, focusing on measures to increase efficiency in meat production should be a definite priority.

To put it simply, efficiency is the ratio of inputs the company puts into a farm and the output, or the produce they deliver. However, productivity and efficiency in livestock farming differ from the farming of cereal grains.

While cereal grains are relatively similar to other kinds in the batch of produce, steers, and cows, for example, deal with numerous factors that vary in different contexts. Factors such as the rate of the animal’s growth, breeding, and its ability to lactate, all affect the production of meat products.

The most accurate method to measure the efficiency of a livestock farm is its Feed Efficiency.

The Importance of Feed Efficiency

Feed efficiency, also called Feed Conversion Ratio, is a quantifiable measure of the livestock’s productivity when it comes to converting the feed they are provided with into food fit for human consumption.

Feed, in this sense, refers to the animals’ diet which is produced to provide animals with the nutrition they require to produce livestock products such as meat and milk. This end product eventually sold in the market is called Animal Source Food.

Calculating the Feed Conversion Ratio allows livestock companies to analyze their animals’ performance. A major chunk of the overall cost in cattle farming, measured to around 75%, is invested in the animal’s feed.

Therefore, it is an important factor in cost calculations. For example, if one steer of cattle grows 6 pounds more than another over a period of two weeks, the farm owner can easily decide which steer is more productive.

It can also help the farm owners precisely measure the amount of feed required for each animal, which can cut costs of feed wastage and improve productivity.

The factors in the calculation for feed efficiency are the animal’s growth rate and its feed intake. It can be derived by simply dividing the feed intake by the animal’s growth rate. Some ways to accurately measure the feed Intake of cattle are listed below.

Metabolism Crates

The first method to measure feed efficiency is through the use of metabolism crates. Each individual animal on the farm is kept in this crate and fed up to three times a day.

It allows the farmworkers to calculate how much feed was provided to the animal, and even the amount of feces and urine the animal produces. Furthermore, it also provides accurate analyses for the animal’s nutrient intake and rate of digestion.

However, this can inhibit the animal’s socialization as they are confined to this indoor crate for at least 7 days.

Since the ruminant will be kept in this cage for a while, it is important to keep the dimensions of the cage large enough to allow the animal to walk around a little.

There should also be enough space for them to lie down and get up easily to keep the animal away from any discomfort.

The Calan Gate

The Calan Gate, also called the Calan Broadbent Feeding System, was created by American Calan. It is an electronic collar placed around an animal’s neck which allows the farm labor to give each animal the amount of feed specifically measured for them.

Each collar is electronically connected to a door or a cabinet, the key for which is on the collar the animal wears.

On one hand, this innovation results in high productivity in producing livestock products as it helps the researcher document the exact amount of food the animal eats and the food required or wasted that helps them ration the animal’s diet for the next feed intake.

It also allows the animal to socialize with the other ruminants (as opposed to the Metabolic Crates). However, on the other hand, it requires more labor and a higher level of monitoring to control the animal’s feed intake.

It also increases the cost of feed intake (which proves to be the highest cost on a livestock farm, as mentioned before) as these electronic systems can only be placed under a covered area to account for unsuitable weather like snow or rain.

Individual Animal Data Capture

This technology uses hardware and software that is able to monitor each animal through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which is an electronic ear tag, also called a “smart name tag” that activates when the animal comes to feed in a cloud-connected IoT-based trough.

Troughs allow lots of animals to eat at the same time but that could result in some animals eating more than others, and would not allow the farm to accurately monitor their diet.

Kansas City-based company Vytelle offers a program called Vytelle Sense which utilizes and offers custom-made smart troughs that include individual cabinets for each animal, and each feed bunk corresponds to the ruminant’s ear tag. While the animal eats, the computer records its feed intake and water intake.

The technology for the water intake system also allows the computer to accurately approximate the animal’s body weight through a sensory mechanism.

How to Increase Feed Efficiency?

A clear indicator of poor Feed Efficiency is when a farm’s feed costs are high, and the performance of its cattle is low. Since feed efficiency is crucial for a livestock business, it is necessary for a cattle farm to dig deep into why it is low.

Factors such as stress on the animal, low rates of digestion, starvation, or overfeeding can influence this calculation.

Here are some methods that can help increase feed efficiency leading to productivity:

Minimize the Animal’s Stress

Stress can have serious repercussions on animal health. Stress includes any reactions to the physical, behavioral, and physiological changes a farm animal has to adjust to.

Physical stresses are when the animal is injured or fatigued. Behavioral stresses emerge when there is a rapid change in the animal’s environment.

For example, new surroundings and new people. Physiological stresses emerge when the animal is placed in weather that is too hot or too cold for them. These can occur during farm activities, such as transportation.

Taking steps to ensure that the animal is safely handled, without giving them any stress, is important for their comfort and health. These values have direct consequences on the animal’s performance in meat production.

Ensuring the Right Nutrition and Feed

Balanced nutrition and good quality feed are of utmost importance when dealing with livestock. Selecting the right kind of feed that provides the animal with their required levels of nutrition has an impact on their health and rate of growth.

Using additives, hormones, and supplements under the care of a veterinarian can also increase the livestock’s performance. Hence, it can increase feed efficiency and prove to be productive on the farm.

Prioritize Animal Welfare and Health

Keeping livestock in the best of health, and making sure their psychological states are in top condition greatly affects productivity. If the animals are kept in unfavorable conditions, they can have poor mental health which has direct repercussions on their physical health.

They may stop eating the diet provided to them, which influences their growth rate. Therefore, prioritizing the animals’ physical health and welfare can help them produce more meat and increase efficiency on the ranch.

Conclusion

Measuring livestock efficiency, and especially feed efficiency is very important from the business perspective of companies that sell animal source foods.

The calculation of feed efficiency allows researchers to differentiate between animals that receive the same amount of food but have a higher body mass as opposed to those that do not grow as much.

These quantifiable methods can help livestock companies as they help increase efficiency in meat production with the help of objective research that shows how to cut costs and also result in optimum profits.

About Folio3 AgTech Practice

Folio3 is a Silicon Valley based Digital Transformation partner for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies with a special focus on digitization of Agriculture, Production and Companion Animal industry. Having worked with some of the world’s leading animal health companies, cattle associations, cow-calf operators, cattle feeders, beef processors and beef marketing companies, we have the design and development expertise required to help you digitize your manual procedures and practices, whether you’re a farm or a ranch owner, veterinarian, feedlot manager, nutritionist, or processing plant owner, we have got you covered.

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