Written by: Lacie Dotterweich | July 17, 2020
Use less water. Use less electricity. Use less plastic. People, communities and organizations all over are trying to use less to help protect the environment and lower carbon footprints. But in the animal agriculture world, using less goes by different words: feed efficiency.
Simply put, the feed efficiency (or feed conversion) ratio is the amount of feed required to grow or produce a product, such as milk for dairy cows and weight gain in beef cattle, pigs, chickens or fish.
The feed efficiency ratio serves a couple of different purposes. While it has traditionally been used to measure performance and evaluate economics, it may also help monitor environmental impact. Less inputs needed for equal or higher production is generally good for both farmers’ and ranchers’ wallets and the environment. Feed is often the largest expenditure in raising livestock and poultry. Improving feed efficiency can also have a substantial positive effect on costs, profitability and the need for more inputs – a win-win for animal agriculture and the Earth.
So how does an animal efficiently convert feed into meat, milk or eggs? Feed efficiency is influenced by genetics and environment, with the “environment” referring to the feed, housing, management, animal health, etc. For dairy cows, days in milk, age, maturity, changes in body condition score, walking distances, body weight, forage quality and feed additives will also impact feed efficiency values. Keeping feed conversion and efficiency in mind, the feed industry researches and formulates products to help animals perform at optimal efficiency.
Feed efficiency is calculated using a simple equation. It is pounds of feed consumed per unit of output, which is often pound of body weight, dozen eggs or pound of milk. Mathematically, it is pounds of feed consumed per animal per day divided by the animal’s daily output and is often expressed as a ratio, e.g. 7:1 or 2.1:1.
Over the years, feed efficiency has greatly improved. Dairy cows today require 40% fewer pounds of feed to produce 100 lbs. of milk than 40 years ago. In 1925, it took 2.5 times more feed to produce a broiler chicken of the same size than it does today. If livestock require less feed, then less feed must be grown, produced and hauled, which helps reduce agriculture’s overall carbon footprint.
The feed efficiency ratio is a good indicator of how farmers and ranchers can take care of both their bottom line and the environment. Just like people all over the globe, animal agriculture does its part in lowering carbon footprints.