The Sernick Group, when it installed a Phase C testing station in 1990 - the first private entity in South Africa to do so - didn't realise its significance and the impact it would have in the years to come. Its necessity really came into play in 2015 when feeding costs nearly doubled and feedlots experienced massive losses due to the price increase in maize.
The group recently upgraded with a new DeLaval testing station with upgraded technology and software which can test up to 216 animals per cycle in three test cycles per year.
Production efficiency is a function of inputs and outputs. In a cattle production system, the biological efficiency is the quantity of feed that the animal consumes to produce one unit (kg) of meat. Feed intake and feed efficiency is, therefore, an important component of production costs.
Phase C testing is the only performance phase where feed intake is measured on individual animals to evaluate feed conversion which is expressed through a feed conversion ratio (FCR). The direct measurement of feed intake to calculate feed conversion is the most accurate method to determine the breeding value for feed efficiency.
Over the past 27 years, Sernick has been able to considerably improve its Bonsmara studs’ feed efficiency due to its ongoing testing and implementation in terms of genetic selection in the stud. The overall average daily gain (ADG) of the stud was improved by 0.2kg while the feed conversion (FCR) improved with 1.8kg, hence cattle consume 1.8kg feed less to grow 1 kg in live weight.
Though Nick Serfontein, chairman of the Sernick Group, warns that breeds should not exclusively select for growth and FCR as it could lead to larger frame animals with higher maintenance.
Feed efficiency is more important than ever
"Feed efficiency is more important than ever, and I find it interesting that the industry has not yet realised the potential impact on resource use, beef production and profitability," says Serfontein.
Phillip Oosthuizen, Sernick’s head of economics and research, concluded that FCR has a more significant influence on feedlot profitability than growth. An improvement of 0.5 in FCR increases feedlot profit with R295.26 over the feeding period with current market prices.
Mecki Schneider, a well-known Namibian stud farmer, stated that feed efficiency will become the most important trait for future selection. Dr Dirk Strydom, head of Grain SA marketing, wrote that maize consumed by cattle in the feedlot should be utilised more efficiently to increase beef production and the value of maize through feeding.
“Feed efficiency, after reproduction, has the highest impact on profit. It starts by understanding the concept and technology, then measuring and finally controlling the outcome,” says Serfontein.