Improve farm productivity with feed conversion efficiency

By Rodney Woods

Improving feed conversion efficiency can increase farm productivity and profitability by increasing lamb output with lower feed costs.Feed is a significant cost in sheep production and Agriculture Victoria researchers have determined that prime lambs and ewes can vary substantially in feed conversion efficiency. Feed efficiency is a measure of how efficiently an individual sheep converts feed to product (for example, weight gain) and is expressed as FCR (feed conversion ratio) or RFI (residual feed intake). Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Stephanie Muir said researchers had been measuring feed efficiency in maternal composite ewes and rams of various breeds to determine the range in feed efficiency within the population.“Farm modelling has estimated that improving the feed conversion efficiency of the ewe flock could increase on-farm profitability by up to 33 per cent, or up to 38 per cent if lamb feed conversion efficiency was also improved,” Dr Muir said.To date Agriculture Victoria researchers have measured RFI in 500 maternal composite ewes post-weaning and as hoggets and adults. “For adult ewes, the most efficient ewe consumed 1.09kg of dry matter per day less than expected, while the least efficient ewe consumed 1.04kg DM/day more than expected," she said."This means there is more than a 2kg DM difference in feed intake per day between the most and least feed efficient ewes for a given level of production.''

Agriculture Victoria’s Research Centre in Hamilton has an automated feed intake facility which enables individual measurements of intake from sheep housed in a group environment.

This facility allows sheep to participate in normal social interactions and other behaviours, which would otherwise be limited under individual pen feeding.Further measurements of feed efficiency in sheep, coupled with appropriate genetic evaluations, will enable a genomic test for feed efficiency in sheep to be developed.

This technology will make it possible to select rams that will produce more efficient lambs and ewes without the need for feed intake testing. For more information, visit: