As feed costs have climbed to over 70% of the cost of production, skilled labor costs have risen, and consumer demand for sustainability grows, beef producers are under significant economic and social pressure. Today, selecting for net feed intake (NFI) is the best way to produce more feed efficient cattle that reduce costs and increase profit, while doing so in a sustainable manner. A 10% improvement in feed efficiency can lead to a 43% improvement in profit (Fox et al., 2001), and selecting for low NFI can reduce feed intake by 12%, reduce methane production by up to 30% and reduce manure by 17% (Agri-facts, 2006).
NFI is a measure of feed efficiency calculated as the difference between an animal’s actual feed intake and its predicted feed intake, for a given level of production (Koch et al., 1963; Basarab et al., 2003). Cattle with low or negative NFI are efficient as they eat less than predicted, while cattle with high or positive NFI are inefficient as they eat more than predicted. When NFI is used as a genetic selection tool, the resulting progeny will consume less feed for the same level of production. Since NFI is independent of growth, body size and other performance traits (Koch et al., 1963), selection for animals with low NFI will lead to reduced feed intake and improved feed efficiency without compromising body size, carcass quality or growth. Improvements in feed efficiency can be selected for and incorporated into a breeding program to produce more efficient offspring.