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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #302047

Research Project: Understanding Genetic and Physiological Factors Affecting Nutrient Use Efficiency of Dairy Cattle

Location: Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory

Title: Improving feed efficiency in dairy production systems – challenges and possibilities

item Connor, Erin

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/27/2014
Publication Date: 4/29/2014
Citation: Connor, E.E. 2014. Improving feed efficiency in dairy production systems – challenges and possibilities. Proceedings of the British Society of Animal Science. 5(1):Abstract 9.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Improving production efficiency has always been a goal of animal agriculture to ensure an abundant food and fiber supply, and to maintain producer profitability. In recent decades, the concept of sustainable agriculture emerged, which includes the additional goals of safeguarding natural resources, promoting a clean environment, and improving both producer and animal well-being. Within the dairy cattle sector, enormous gains have been made in farm operations, herd management, and animal nutrition, health, and genetics since the commercialization of milk production in the late 19th century to increase efficiency of production. Despite this progress, advances in dairy science must continue to meet the food demands of a growing world population, to promote environmental stewardship, and to sustain producer profitability. One of the greatest threats to producer profitability is the cost of feeding animals, which accounts for 40 to 60 percent of total production costs. Opportunities exist to reduce feed costs and environmental impacts associated with dairy production by identifying and maintaining animals exhibiting superior feed efficiency within the herd that do not exhibit associated declines in milk production, fertility, or health. However, tools are needed to assist producers in identifying these animals. Although means to improve feed efficiency among poultry, swine, and beef cattle are well investigated, research focusing specifically on feed efficiency of dairy cattle is less prevalent and only recently has appeared consistently in the scientific literature. As a result, much debate persists on how best to evaluate feed efficiency in lactating cows, and how to make genetic progress in efficiency-related traits among dairy cattle populations without negatively impacting other traits such as energy balance. Therefore, this review focuses on the opportunities and challenges for improving feed efficiency in dairy herds, including the most common approaches for its estimation and some of their limitations, and the potential implications of genetic selection for greater efficiency. Some suggestions for future research directions, particularly related to understanding the physiological basis for variation in feed efficiency among animals, are discussed.