Feed Efficiency Could Reduce Environmental Impacts

Sheep farmers could use selective breeding to improve feed efficiency and reduce environmental impact, says a leading Australian scientist.

Speaking at the Sheepbreeders Roundtable event sponsored by EBLEX and Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Robert Herd- principal research scientist at the University of New England in Australia- said that residual feed intake (RFI) has already been adopted by the Australian beef industry as the measure of feed efficiency to use for breed improvement.

RFI is the difference between actual feed intake by an animal over a test period and its expected feed intake for its liveweight and level of production, such as growth rate in beef cattle.

Low RFI animals eat less than expected and are considered more efficient. Animals which need a lower feed intake are not only be more profitable, but would also be expected to emit less methane and to excrete less nitrogen.

"Simple selection for lower RFI provides one approach by which animal breeding can indirectly bring about reduced greenhouse gas emissions and do so without compromising animal growth," said Herd

"Caution is needed in pursuing low methane phenotypes without further knowledge on how robust the trait is and in the absence of data on heritability and correlated traits."

Herd's address formed part of a session on strategies the sheep industry needs to address to counteract climate change. He was joined by other speakers in a discussion on how breeding improvements and more efficient production could benefit the environment.

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