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Efficient Cattle Production: Feed efficient cattle pave way for input cost savings

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Input costs across agricultural production are ever increasing. But farmers and ranchers continue to utilize the latest research and technology to continue producing high-quality products – from cattle to crops – while reducing input costs. 

University of Wyoming Beef Extension Specialist Scott Lake explains feed efficiency is an important tool producers can use, in conjunction with growth traits, to produce pounds of beef in a cost-efficient manner. 

“With less resources and increasing feed costs, producers need to be able to feed cattle at a lower cost, but it is important to remember there are two different sides to the feed efficiency equation – input and output,” he says. “When coupling feed efficiency with growth, there will be outlying animals that are very feed efficient and grow well. In my mind, those are the animals we can use to make a difference because we are reducing feed input, but still producing more pounds of beef.” 

Efficient and sustainable beef 

Leo McDonnell, a leader in efficiency testing in the beef industry, shares every manufacturing or production industry looks at efficiency every day – measuring their input costs against output values for return on investment – and the beef industry should be no different. 

“If you’re not efficient, you’re not competitive,” he says.

Additionally, he notes it is nearly impossible to be sustainable in an industry without being efficient. 

“You can’t hardly talk about sustainability without the efficient use of resources, such as grass, feed and water,” McDonnell adds. 

Decreasing the carbon footprint per pound of beef produced is a major focus, especially as entire industries directly related to crop and livestock production commit to increasing sustainable practices.

 “High-end executives of some businesses will be paid more for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reductions than they will for profitability – the industry right now is saying we have to be more environmentally friendly,” says Jim Jensen, owner of Lucky 7 Angus in Riverton. “Feed efficiency is one huge tool that gets us there.”

Putting cattle to the test

McDonnell Angus, Lucky 7 Angus, Byergo Angus and HERB Angus are seedstock producers who are putting feed efficiency testing to work to increase the bottom line of their commercial customers’ operations. 

Lucky 7 Angus was the first Angus-only seedstock operation to implement a Grow Safe system to collect research quality feed efficiency data on their bulls and have been feed efficiency testing for over 25 years. Jensen notes this year, they’ve found the greatest combination of genetics they’ve seen for feed efficiency yet. 

Jensen explains the ranch produces proven feed efficient bulls – environmentally friendly bulls – under real-world conditions.  

Among other benefits, Jensen has seen a positive influence of feed efficiency genetics on winter feed resources. In his operation, feed efficient cattle can graze longer, and when he starts feeding, Jensen shares the hay stack lasts longer than it would with less efficient cattle.  

“Cost of gain is a big deal to us,” shares Bryson Byergo. “Feed conversion and efficiency relates directly to the performance of our bulls, because our customers are paid at the end of the day based on the cost of gain.” 

The Byergos started measuring feed efficiency in the early 1990s at Northwestern Missouri State University and today have invested in an on-farm system to test all the bulls on their farm. 

“We measure actual intake of the animals and actual gain to see what their real world feed efficiency is,” Byergo says, noting over the last 30 years, the operation has seen a difference in their cowherd and have increased the number of cows they can run per acre. 

Additionally, the Byergos have seen positive traits passed from feed efficient bulls to their daughters. 

“We see a direct correlation in bulls that convert feed to their daughters being cows, which stay fleshier and produce more pounds per acre,” Byergo says. “We keep seeing our cowherd driving down input costs and improving the bottom line.” 

Brian Herbolsheimer, of HERB Angus, sees similar benefits of feed efficiency testing in his herd. 

“We started focusing on feed efficiency to separate ourselves from other producers in the area,” Herbolsheimer says, sharing HERB Angus recently started utilizing feed efficiency. “We’ve seen benefit in the outliers and building our herd based on high-performing animals. No cow is more special than the progress of the next year, so we are starting to identify cow families, which are passing on the trait of efficiency.”

Economics of efficiency

Seedstock producers utilizing feed efficiency testing are focused on improving efficiency of their own herds, but also for their commercial customers. 

“Seventy percent of cost for any type of cattle is feed,” Herbolsheimer notes. “So, if we can make cattle more efficient, everyone is going to be able to put more money in their pockets. Feed costs are not going to go down anytime soon, so we work to find ways to maximize performance with less feed intake.” 

“Efficiency is the biggest economic indicator in the beef industry,” Jensen says. “If we produce cattle that are 30 percent more feed efficient, in turn, we can have 30 percent more profit.”

Lake adds feed efficiency is more than just reduced feed intake. 

“There’s a huge difference between having a cow eat less and produce average and a cow that eats average and produces more,” Lake explains. 

McDonnell shares there is often a 20 percent difference in efficiency between cattle performing at the top-third of a feed efficiency test and cattle performing at the bottom-third of the test.

Byergo adds, many cattle producers see the output on the commercial side of production, but there are three big areas he sees as big cost savings for producers utilizing feed efficient bulls: cow-herd maintenance, weaning and backgrounding and cost of gain at the feedlot. 

“It is easy to see a swing of $300 to $400 between low-efficiency and high-efficiency cattle at the feedlot in terms of cost of gain,” Byergo explains. 

“Margins are tight in agriculture,” McDonnell adds. “Anything we can do to improve our profits is important, and efficiency data has shown well over $100 reductions in pasture and feed cost on cows, well over $150 advantages in the feedlot and savings of $50 to $70 in stocker and backgrounding programs.” 

He continues, “Fertility, longevity and other maternal traits are important, but if removed,  efficiency gives producers a far greater return than a lot of carcass premiums.”

Herbolsheimer shares at the end of the day, he believes it is his job as a seedstock producer to help his customers be more successful, and the raw data provided by feed efficiency testing helps him do so. 

“Feed efficiency itself is real data and it’s something we can work directly with,” Herbolsheimer says. “Feed costs, corn prices and land values will continue to go up, so it is going to be very important in the future to watch for efficiency.”

Lucky 7 Angus will host their annual sale at the Riverton Livestock Auction on March 5. For more information, visit

Byergo Angus will host their 72nd Anniversary Sale in Savannah, Mo. on Feb. 19. For more information or to view the sale catalog, visit

HERB Angus will host their Workin’ Man’s Angus Bull Sale on March 12 in Foster, Neb. For more information or to request a sale catalog, visit

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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