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J Anim Sci. 2013 Apr;91(4):1594-613. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-5862. Epub 2013 Jan 23.

Cell Biology Symposium: genetics of feed efficiency in dairy and beef cattle.

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Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland.


Increasing food production for the growing human population off a constraining land base will require greater efficiency of production. Genetic improvement of feed efficiency in cattle, which is cumulative and permanent, is one likely vehicle to achieving efficiency gains. The objective of this review is to summarize genetic parameters for feed efficiency traits in dairy and beef cattle and also to address some of the misconceptions associated with feed efficiency in these sectors, as well as discuss the potential use of feed efficiency in breeding programs. A meta-analysis of up to 39 scientific publications in growing cattle clearly showed that genetic variation in feed efficiency exists with a pooled heritability for residual feed intake (RFI) and feed conversion efficiency of 0.33 ± 0.01 (range of 0.07 to 0.62) and 0.23 ± 0.01 (range of 0.06 to 0.46), respectively. Heritability estimates for feed efficiency in cows were lower; a meta-analysis of up to 11 estimates revealed heritability estimates for gross feed efficiency and RFI of 0.06 ± 0.010 and 0.04 ± 0.008, respectively. Meta-analysis of genetic correlations between feed intake, feed efficiency and other performance traits are presented, and selection index theory is used to calculate the proportion of genetic variation in feed intake that can be explained by easy to measure, and often already collected, data. A large proportion of the genetic variation in feed intake could be explained in both growing animals and lactating animals using up to 5 predictor traits, including BW, growth rate, milk yield, body composition, and linear type traits reflecting body size and muscularity. Knowledge of genetic merit for feed intake can be used, along with estimates of genetic merit for energy sinks, to calculate genetic merit for feed efficiency. Therefore, the marginal benefit of collecting actual feed intake data, using the genetic parameters used in this study, appears to be low. There is now sufficient information available to develop a road map on how best to direct research to ensure long-term food security for a growing human population. Gaps in knowledge are identified here, and possibilities to address these gaps are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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