Searching for the ultimate cow : the economic value of RFI at bull sales

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Selecting cattle that consume less feed without production losses can increase the profitability of cow/calf producers by reducing input costs. However, genetic selection based on historical measures of feed efficiency or feed to gain ratios (F:G) is unable to improve this trait because of correlations between feed efficiencies and gain traits. Residual feed intake (RFI) is an alternative measure of feed efficiency that is independent of body weight (BW) and growth traits. RFI is the difference between an animal's actual feed intake and expected feed intake. For example, an animal that consumes 3 pounds less feed than expected would be assigned a RFI of -3 and is considered more feed efficient than those with larger RFI measures. Seed stock producers sell bulls to cow/calf producers. Cow/calf producers select bulls that are perceived to have the greatest potential to improve the genetics of breeding cows and/or their offspring. Bull sales often provide sale catalogs to potential buyers that contain various performance measures including expected progeny differences (EPDs) and simple performance measures (SPMs). These measures provide information to purchasers so that rational decisions regarding genetic improvements can be made. Midland Bull Test (MBT) in Columbus, MT conducts bull performance tests on 1,200 bulls annually for bull producers throughout the Unites States. In 2008 and 2009, MBT used a new technology (GrowSafe) to record individual feed intake which allows for the calculation of RFI. These measures, along with performance EPDs, provide the basis for a linear hedonic price model to determine if bull purchasers value RFI. Regression results indicate buyers are willing to pay additional amounts for bulls that are RFI efficient. However, buyers appear to be valuing RFI below its theoretical contribution to cost reductions because of risk and uncertainty. Purchasers at the MBT bull sales valued gain traits, birth weight, and age more highly than RFI. If this behavior is consistent in other markets and buyers continue to value RFI, it would be reasonable to expect an RFI EPD to be developed in the future.




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