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Tuesday, December 11, 2012 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Finding Ways to Increase 'Feed Efficiency' in Cattle

Animal feed is the biggest cost for most cattle producers. In the United States, the cost of hay, grain and other feed has risen sharply because of a drought. At the same time, wildfires this year burned more than 1 million hectares of North American rangeland.

Jack Field raises cattle in the northwestern state of Washington. To save money, he made plans to transport his small herd of cows 300 kilometers away to feed on crop stubble. Crop stubble is what remains after crops have been harvested. Moving his cattle from farm to farm costs money and time. But he says, if he can avoid feeding them hay, he can still make a profit.

Tim DelCurto is a beef scientist at Oregon State University. He is working with ranchers and feedlot owners to help them find lower cost ways to feed cattle. He says cattle can eat things like grass-seed straw and distillers grains.

These grains are left over from ethanol fuel production. He says cattle can also eat vegetables rejected by vegetable processing factories like green beans, and carrots. Tim DelCurto says beef cattle can digest almost anything. The rising cost of feed has led agricultural research universities to give greater attention to what experts call "feed efficiency."

The University of Idaho has a cattle barn where sensors measure exactly how much food each cow eats. Professor Rod Hill says just because animals are growing at the same rate does not mean they eat the same amount of food.

In fact, the difference in how efficiently their bodies turn feed into meat, fat, bone and skin might be surprising. Rod Hill says ranchers can use selective breeding to get the same growth with less feed. But he says not to focus too much on one thing, like reducing fat. He says that, while leaner beef cattle are more efficient, they produce less profitable meat.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 13Nov2012)