Improving the efficiency of energy utilization in cattle
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1071/AN10160
The efficiency of energy utilisation in cattle is a determinant of the profitability of milk and beef production, as well as their environmental impact. At an animal level, meat and milk production by ruminants is less efficient than pig and poultry production, in part due to lower digestibility of forages compared with grains. However, when compared on the basis of human-edible inputs, the ruminant has a clear efficiency advantage. There has been recent interest in feed conversion efficiency (FCE) in dairy cattle and residual feed intake, an indicator of FCE, in beef cattle. Variation between animals in FCE may have genetic components, allowing selection for animals with greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact. A major source of variation in FCE is feed digestibility, and thus approaches that improve digestibility should improve FCE if rumen function is not disrupted. Methane represents a substantial loss of digestible energy from rations. Major determinants of methane emission are the amount of feed consumed and the proportions of forage and concentrates fed. In addition, feeding fat has long been known to reduce methane emission. A myriad of other supplements and additives are currently being investigated as mitigators of methane emission, but in many cases compounds effective in sheep are ineffective in lactating dairy cows. Ultimately, the adoption of ‘best practice’ in diet formulation and management may be the most effective option for reducing methane. In assessing the efficiency of energy use for milk and meat production by cattle, and their environmental impact, it is imperative that comparisons be made at a systems level, and that the wider social and economic implications of mitigation policy are considered.