News last update:7 Aug 2012

Factors that influence FC in dairy cattle

The parameter feed conversion (FC) in the dairy sector hard to interpret. Researchers from Wageningen University and Research Centre therefore studied the factors that influence feed conversion and feed-bound costs in dairy practices.

In the dairy sector, there are great differences in ration composition, differences among the animals and there is a significant temporal variation in feed efficiency. This makes the parameter feed conversion in the dairy sector hard to interpret. In the intensive livestock production, a lower feed conversion generally leads to a better economic performance. In the dairy sector this relation is considerably less apparent; a low feed conversion does not necessarily lead to a better result than a high one.

Relation with milk yield
According to the study, the feed conversion should be considered in close relation to the milk yield. In general, a high milk production goes with a low feed conversion and vice versa. In relation to this: a high milk production usually involves a high feed intake and all the same a low feed conversion.
Because milk production plays a dominant role in the parameters feed conversion and gross return minus feed costs, these parameters rather mirror the production level than that what they are meant for, namely the (economic) utilisation of feed. The farmer's ambition should lie in improving the quality and utilisation of roughage with a lower feed conversion as a result.

The researchers did not find a clear relation with feed conversion and the dairy farmer's income. There was a relation between the costs of the entire feed process. These involve not only the feed costs, but also all costs that have to do with acquiring and supplying the feed. The study showed that the costs of home-produced roughage are rather high, the net costs of which are often higher than its market value.
Feed conversion is an optimum characteristic, economically and technically speaking. A very low feed conversion can lead to a reduction in body condition of dairy cattle with possibly corresponding health and fertility problems, while a high feed conversion goes together with too high a cost. Also nutrient utilisation is important (consider, for example, nitrogen).

Dynamic approach
The Animal Sciences Group from Wageningen UR recommends a "dynamic" approach in monitoring and controlling feed efficiency and production. With this approach, the question: "what is the response of dairy cattle to change in feed?" continuously applies.
When the farmer knows the effect of the feeding measures or when it can be estimated in advance, he can base his decisions on this, aiming at a farm performance as good as possible. The objective for a dynamic linear feed model is maximising the gross return minus feed costs. This economic parameter depends on, among other things, the feed utilisation. There is much variation in feed utilisation, due to differences in efficiency among the animals, but also within the animals, due to temporal variation. The dynamic linear feed model supports operational management and can be automated and implemented in dairy farm management systems well. The "dynamic" approach is currently being developed and tested by the Animal Sciences Group and is very promising for practical application.

The report "Feed conversion in dairy cattle" (in Dutch) is published by Animal Sciences Group , Lelystad, the Netherlands. Email: info.po.asg@wur.nl

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The effect of dairy breeds on feed conversion efficiency

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